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Levy and Baker Discuss Gulf Crisis, Steps Toward Palestinian Dialogue

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker emerged Wednesday from their first meeting promising to work together to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Levy praised U.S. efforts to end Iraqi aggression, and Baker, in turn, praised Israel’s support and willingness to stay on the sidelines of the international effort to force Iraq out of Kuwait.

The secretary stressed that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is separate from the crisis in the Persian Gulf, a clear indication that the United States does not accept a Soviet proposal for an international conference to deal with both the Gulf and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Both Levy and Baker indicated that the most important outcome of their three-hour meeting at the State Department, an hour longer than scheduled, was the establishment of a personal rapport.

“Personal relationships are very important,” Baker said as Levy called him “chaveri Jim” (my friend Jim).

It was not clear whether the two leaders had many any concrete steps forward toward reaching an Israel-Palestinian dialogue. Baker stressed that it would be a “dialogue about elections” that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has proposed for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Baker indicated that he still supports his proposal for a dialogue, though the question of who will represent the Palestinians is still unresolved.

LOAN GUARANTEES DISCUSSED

Israeli sources said Levy has come up with some way of meeting Baker’s concern that Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and those deported from the territories be represented in the Palestinian delegation.

Until now, the ruling Likud party has been adamantly opposed to inclusion of such delegates, in part because it could compromise the status of Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel.

Baker also reported that some progress was made on freeing up U.S. guarantees for $400 million in loans to build housing for Soviet Jewish immigrants in Israel. Congress has approved such guarantees, but the administration has held them up until it receives certain “assurances” from Israel.

Baker said it was made clearer to Levy exactly what assurances the administration wanted, the chief one being that none of the funds would be used to house Soviet Jews in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

While the State Department talks centered on the Persian Gulf and the Middle East peace process, there also was discussion of several other issues, including the Israeli economy, and the emigration of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews, Baker said.

Late reports from Israel said that Levy had been invited to meet Thursday with President Bush. But the White House press office could not confirm that such a meeting was planned.

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