U.S. Won’t Force Israel on Peace, President Promises Jewish Leaders

President Bush personally assured American Jewish leaders Thursday that the United States would not seek to impose its will on Israel as it tries to bring about a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf crisis.

He also said there would not be any intermittent cease-fire until Iraq leaves Kuwait and abides by all the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Doubts on both points were raised when Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh issued a joint statement Tuesday night offering a “cessation of hostilities” if Iraq makes an “unequivocal commitment to withdraw from Kuwait” and promising to vigorously “promote Arab-Israel” peace once the Persian Gulf war has ended.

The statement, which the Bush administration has appeared to retreat from in recent days, was originally seen by some as an abandonment of Bush’s insistence that the Gulf war not be linked with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But a delegation of leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations emerged from a White House meeting with the president Thursday convinced the statement reflects no change in U.S. policy.

Bush “reiterated the fact that there is no linkage” and stressed that the United States will not seek to impose its will on Israel or anyone else, Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, reported afterward.

Once the war is over, the United States will work for peace and stability in the region, but this requires cooperation from the Arab states as well as Israel, Cardin said.

SHOVAL RECEIVES ASSURANCES, TOO

Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval received the same assurances from Baker on Wednesday, when the two met at the State Department.

Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Thursday that Shoval was meeting with Dennis Ross, director of the department’s policy planning staff, when Baker called the ambassador and said, “Why don’t you come down and I’ll buy you a drink?”

The two “had a ginger ale together” and met in Baker’s office, Tutwiler said. She said the secretary told Shoval, “There is nothing new in this statement.”

When Shoval left the meeting, he told reporters: “The United States is consistent in its approach. It does not contain a substantive change, possibly no change at all.”

The friendly exchange over what could have been a troubling issue for Israel appeared to reflect the cooperative spirit that has marked U.S.-Israeli relations since the war in the Gulf began.

Indeed, the Conference of Presidents delegation left the White House confident that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is closer than ever.

“We learned there is a strengthened relationship between the United States and Israel, that there is a recognition that the alliance which has existed for years be a credible one,” Cardin told reporters after the hour-long meeting.

“I think it is high level, I think on a personal level it is far better,” she said.

Cardin said the president said he is keeping in close contact with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Prior to the start of the Gulf war, there had been a great deal of animosity between the two. But since the first Iraqi Scud missile hit Tel Aviv, Bush has telephoned the prime minister at least three times.

Shamir is scheduled to come to Washington on March 17 to address the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Although no meeting with Bush has been scheduled, it is expected that the two will meet.

The Conference of Presidents meeting with Bush was scheduled two days earlier at the president’s request, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the umbrella group of 46 organizations.

Most of the Jewish leaders at the meeting had returned Wednesday from a three-day fact-finding and solidarity mission to Israel.

Cardin and Hoenlein led another delegation to a meeting a few hour earlier with Secretary of State Baker. That meeting had been scheduled since Jan. 3.

Cardin and Hoenlein were accompanied to both meetings by three leading Jewish Republicans: Max Fisher of Detroit, Richard Fox of Philadelphia and George Klein of New York.

At the State Department meeting, they were joined by several former chairmen of the Conference of Presidents. Also participating in the White House meeting were representatives of 12 national Jewish organization that had participated in the mission to Israel.

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