Shamir’s Letter to Bush Contained ‘positive Elements,’ Says Leader

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s June 28 letter to President Bush contains positive elements on which U.S. Secretary of State James Baker is seeking clarification, an American Jewish leader indicated Tuesday.

Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, learned this from Baker himself before leaving for Jerusalem, Reich told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The secretary of state is scheduled to meet next week in Paris with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, unless Levy’s doctors forbid him to travel because of the mild heart attack he suffered on June 14.

Reich met with Levy on Monday, his first day at the office since taking ill. After the meeting, Reich told reporters that the letter Baker sent Levy last month upon his appointment as foreign minister was a “warm” one.

Reich said he saw the letter as “a positive step” toward improving the atmosphere in U.S.-Israeli relations. But, contrary to an earlier report, he did not say that relations between Israel and the United States were “warming up.”

Reich, whose leadership of the Conference of Presidents puts him in regular contact with the Bush administration, also told reporters Monday that it was conceivable Washington would give Israel assurances that the United States will not force it to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization and will not support the creation of a Palestinian state.

“I believe so, for the very simple reason that both Bush and Baker are on record as taking those positions,” Reich explained Tuesday. “Therefore, I can easily make the assumption that this would not be difficult for the United States to do.”

PRAISE FOR SHARON STATEMENT

Reich also said he believed that the new Likud government would find it difficult to respond affirmatively to key points of the U.S. proposal to advance the peace process: the inclusion of Arab residents of East Jerusalem and Palestinian deportees in a delegation with which Israel would discuss its plan for elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The previous government collapsed because of differences over that issue, the Jewish leader recalled. “Therefore, there would have to be a reformulation of the approach of the new government,” he said.

One way out of that stalemate, Reich said, would be for Israel to review a list of names of possible Palestinian participants in the delegation, who would not be categorized by residence, affiliation or any other label.

Reich also met Tuesday with Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, who has special powers to oversee the settlement of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union.

He praised Sharon for his decision last month not to encourage Soviet olim to settle in the administered territories, which could jeopardize the exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union.

Reich complimented Sharon for being “forthright on this issue,” although the Likud minister has not changed his position that Jews have a right to settle anywhere they wish.

Reich said Sharon told him he was not happy with the present pace of housing construction for immigrants and was seeking ways to relieve the housing shortage.

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