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State Department’s Ross Encourages Israelis on Arms Control Talks

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Dennis Ross, a senior aide to U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, told Israeli leaders that Israel and its Arab neighbors got off to “a very good start” in arms control talks but all sides must remain “creative, patient and determined.”

Ross, director of policy planning at the State Department and head of the American delegation to the Middle East arms control talks, addressed a meeting at Tel Aviv University on Friday. He had returned here to brief Israeli leaders after Baker concluded his swing through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Ross sounded upbeat about the new prospects for the peace process and termed Baker’s talks with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “extraordinarily good.”

Most of his talk was devoted to arms control. The arms race has been a source of increasing concern here since the Israeli defense establishment estimates that Iran, Iraq and possibly other countries in the region may possess a nuclear capability within a decade.

Ross said the countries concerned should set themselves “ambitious goals” but “be realistic about how we’re going to get there. We have to go step by step, brick by brick.”

Incremental steps can alter the climate and the perceptions of one another and can reduce mutual suspicions, he said.

Ross suggested the parties begin by studying their own experiences with the existing limitation-of-forces agreements in the Sinai and the Golan, as well as the tacit agreements concerning Lebanon which have proven effective.

Some, but not all, of the American and former-Soviet experiences could be copied too, he maintained.

Israel and the Arabs could also introduce confidence-building measures such as communication links between their armies, advance notice of military exercises and a declaration of intent not to use chemical weapons.

“You start with them because they don’t put one side or the other at a disadvantage. They can be extremely important to create a different psychological atmosphere,” he said.

During his talk, Ross emphatically denied that President Bush and Secretary of State Baker are anti-Semitic.

“The extraordinary reality is that Baker’s most senior advisers on Middle East issues happen to be Jewish,” he said. Ross also reiterated that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is “absolutely unshakable.”

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