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Bush Sticking to Demand for Delay in Action on U.S. Loan Guarantees

President Bush is hanging tough on his demand that Congress postpone action until January on granting Israel guarantees for $10 billion in loans for immigrant absorption.

“I have stated the position of the United States of America and it is not going to change,” Bush said Monday. “I feel as strongly about it today as I did when I made the statement.”

His remarks were made during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden after a meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

They came as Democrats and Republicans in Congres urged a compromise on the issue to avoid damaging U.S.-Israeli relations.

In the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) said Monday that the loans to help Israel absorb thousands of Soviet and Ethiopian immigrants should not be linked to the peace process.

“I believe that a compromise can be reached, and I join with others in the search to find it,” he said.

House Deputy Minority Leader Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) also expressed confidence that “we will find a way of working with President Bush to ensure that housing guarantees can be passed.”

But Bush repeated his view that “the peace process is enhanced overall by this deferral.” He said he is convinced that the 120-day delay is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and other countries.

‘NO PERSONALITIES INVOLVED’

He also indicated that he would like to tone down the public debate on the issue. “In my view, the less debate we have on these contentious issues now, the better.”

The president maintained that there is “no rancor” in his request and that there are “no personalities involved.” There have been suggestions that Bush’s position was due to his dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his anger over the Israeli government’s continued policy of building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Bush stressed that his position is not based on U.S. opposition to the settlements, a policy that “did not originate with this administration,” he noted. “But I feel very strongly about settlements,” he added.

Kohl said that while he did not want to interfere in American politics, the European countries “completely and unequivocally support the president’s initiative for a peace conference for the Middle East.”

Kohl, speaking in German, said Germany and the other countries of the European Community have also been talking with Israel about loans, but would not discuss it publicly. “As we all know, discussing these matters publicly usually always increases the asking price,” he said.

But Kohl also went out of his way to defend Bush. “I know of no American president who has done as much for the State of Israel as President George Bush,” he said.

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