WASHINGTON (Mar. 13)
President Bush expects to visit Israel and other Middle East countries soon, although no date has been set.
Bush wants to go “sooner rather than later,” White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Tuesday. Current speculation about the date centers on late April.
The president is expected also to visit Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, the main Middle East countries involved in Operation Desert Storm.
The impetus for the trip was an invitation from the government of Kuwait for Bush to visit that country in order to thank him for his leadership of the military coalition that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
However, the presidential trip can also be seen as a follow-up to Secretary of State James Baker’s visit to the Middle East this week. It would be a continuation of the administration’s effort to use the prestige Bush reaped from his leadership in the Persian Gulf war to move the Middle East peace process forward.
The Middle East is the focus of meetings Bush will have with his main Western allies during the next five days. He left for Ottawa on Wednesday to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
On Thursday, he was to fly to Martinique for a meeting with French President Francois Mitterrand, which was to be followed by a weekend meeting in Bermuda with British Prime Minister John Major.
BUSH URGED TO PRESS ARAB RECOGNITION
Unlike Baker, who made his first visit to Israel this week, Bush visited Israel as vice president in July 1986, as part of a 10-day visit to the Middle East. On the Israel leg of the journey, he was accompanied by eight leading Jewish Republicans.
Baker’s visit to Israel may have caused Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to cancel a trip to Washington.
Shamir was scheduled to address the opening session of the 32nd annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this Sunday. But he is not expected to attend now, although his appearance has not officially been canceled. He already canceled a visit to Canada that was scheduled this week.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, more than half the members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter to Bush asking him to “place official recognition of Israel” by the Arab states “at the top of your agenda for peace in the Middle East.”
Pointing out that the United States liberated Kuwait and prevented an invasion of Saudi Arabia, the letter says those two countries “should unconditionally recognize the sovereignty of Israel and establish formal diplomatic relations.”
At least 239 members of the House have signed the letter, according to an aide to Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is sponsoring it along with Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.).