WASHINGTON (Dec. 11)
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir left the White House on Tuesday with what he sought most: assurances from President Bush that a solution to the Persian Gulf crisis will not be at the expense of Israel.
“I trust the president in what he said,” Shamir told reporters after the nearly two-hour meeting. “He said it several times. He said it to me now again. There will not be any deal at the expense of Israel.”
Bush expressed appreciation for Israel’s low profile in the international effort to force Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait. In turn, Shamir gave his “full support for the leadership of the president of the United States in the crisis in the Gulf.”
Both leaders also agreed that the Middle East peace process will remain on hold until the Gulf crisis is resolved, the Israeli prime minister said.
Bush and Shamir, who had not met in over a year, took pains to push aside reports that they dislike each another.
“I want to give a warm welcome to the prime minister here, and I’m delighted that he is here for talks,” the president told reporters as he welcomed Shamir in the Oval Office.
At a separate picture-taking session for Israeli photographers and television camera crews, Bush said, “Happy Chanukah to all the folks in Israel.”
After the White House session, Shamir told reporters, “This meeting, I think, advanced further the special relationship, friendship between the United States and Israel.”
That the possibility of a Gulf solution at Israel’s expenses preyed on Shamir’s mind was evidenced by the strong warning he made against such an outcome during a speech Monday night in New York.
SAYS ISRAEL IS NO CZECHOSLOVAKIA
“We shall not acquiesce to any deal with enemies who wish to destroy us,” Shamir said at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where he received the Jabotinsky Foundation’s $100,000 Defender of Jerusalem Award.
In his speech, Shamir said he would not be surprised if some countries, “not only Arab governments,” put forth the argument “that Israel should make a contribution, ostensibly for the sake of world peace.”
But he quickly made it clear that Israel would not agree to any linkage between Israel’s administration of the territories and the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
“Let me, therefore, state at the very outset: Israel in 1990 is not Czechoslovakia of 1938,” Shamir declared.
He was referring to the Munich agreement of 1938, in which Britain and France agreed that Czechoslovakia should cede the Sudetenland to Germany. Czechoslovakia was fully occupied by the Nazis a few months later.
Alluding to the ongoing debate within the U.N. Security Council over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Shamir told his Monday night audience that the United Nations could not be a vehicle for peace as long as member states cater to the “threats of a group of dictatorial governments” led by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But during his meeting Tuesday with Bush, the prime minister did not explicitly ask the United States to veto a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an international conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict, according to John Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.
Briefing reporters after the Bush-Shamir talks, Kelly said the current resolution, which the Security Council is expected to take up again Wednesday evening, was only discussed in general.
Shamir reportedly repeated his opposition to an international conference. Kelly said that Israel understands the U.S. position that while an international conference may be useful eventually, now is not the time to consider it, because it would be seen as linking the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Gulf crisis.
NO PROMISE OF A U.S. VETO
But Kelly said that the United States could not tell Shamir what it will do in the Security Council until it sees the final language of the resolution, which he said changes almost hourly.
According to Kelly, Bush assured Shamir that “we will maintain a qualitative edge in armaments for Israel, but at the same time we want to help out the legitimate self-defense needs of our Arab friends.”
The president repeated the U.S. position that “we could not but react to an attack on Israel by Iraq,” Kelly said. But he gave no details.
Kelly said both sides recognize that once the Gulf crisis is over, the issue of the “control of weapons of mass destruction will have to be addressed.” It was not clear whether he meant only Iraq or that Israel and other Middle East countries would have to be included.
While Shamir stated flatly that the peace process is on hold until the Gulf crisis is over, Kelly was more equivocal.
“There is no agreement that the peace process is postponed by anybody,” Kelly said. “There is a realistic appreciation in a lot of capitals around the world that the first and most important order of business is to resolve the Gulf crisis.”
However, Shamir “agreed that as we resolve this Gulf crisis, we are going to have to put renewed attention, renewed emphasis on trying to get the peace process moving,” Kelly said.
He said that while Bush was not specific on the next step, “the plan on the table is the Israeli Cabinet’s plan of last May, which includes elections” by the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The issue of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewish immigration to Israel was also a major topic discussed by Bush and Shamir.
Shamir explained “the emotional boost that immigration has in Israel and the practical difficulties that Israel faces” in providing for the large number of immigrants coming into the country, Kelly said.
“I think that President Bush has a clearer understanding and appreciation of both of those factors,” he added.
Shamir said Israel would be looking for increased financial help from the United States to absorb the immigrants, but did not specify any amount, according to Kelly.
NO COMMITMENT ON ADDITIONAL AID
Bush, while saying he was supportive, made no commitments. He said he first wants to see how the already approved $400 million in U.S. guaranteed housing loans works out.
Bush raised the issue of settlements in the West Bank, but he did not explicitly mention East Jerusalem, according to Kelly. Earlier this year, the president alarmed Israeli leaders by appearing to suggest he opposed further settlement of portions of Jerusalem once occupied by Jordan. Israel considers the united city its eternal capital.
Shamir said he stands by the Oct. 2 letter from Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy to Secretary of State James Baker, in which Israel pledged Soviet Jews would not be sent by the government to live in the administered territories.
Kelly said there was no discussion of the Oct. 8 incident on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in which Israeli police killed 17 Arab rioters. But he said Bush expressed his concern about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under its administration.
Shamir also met for lunch Tuesday with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, but no details of the meeting were immediately available. The prime minister was scheduled to have lunch with Vice President Dan Quayle on Wednesday and a morning meeting with Secretary of State Baker on Thursday.