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Bush Plan to Meet with Assad Disappoints U.S. Jewish Leader

A top American Jewish leader expressed surprise and disappointment Wednesday at news that President Bush is planning to meet with Syrian President Hafez Assad during his current trip to Europe and the Middle East.

“It’s very troubling and incomprehensible to those who support the president’s stated goals in the Persian Gulf,” said Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Such a meeting “invites cynicism” toward Bush’s attempt “to maintain the high moral ground in his efforts to unite the world in fighting the naked aggression of (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein,” Reich said.

The meeting, to be held in Geneva, was announced by White House Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater aboard Air Force One. The president was en route from Paris to Saudi Arabia, where he will spend the Thanksgiving Day holiday with U.S. troops.

Fitzwater said the meeting was urged by Egypt and Turkey, the two staunchest allies of the United States in the multinational force opposing Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait.

“What price the coalition?” commented Reich. “Syria is a sponsor of terrorism and terrorist groups that were involved in the bombing of Pan Am 103.”

He was referring to the fact that Syria is the base of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which is believed responsible for the December 1988 bombing of the American airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. A total of 270 people died in the disaster, including several Americans.

Reich said that Secretary of State James Baker’s meeting with Assad in Damascus last month should “have been enough to keep Syria in the coalition.”

“The irony of it all is that Assad is the archenemy of Saddam Hussein and needs the United States more than we need him.”

Assad’s last meeting with a U.S. president was in 1977, when he met in Geneva with Jimmy Carter.

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