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Rabin Gears Up for Kennebunkport with Series of New York Meetings

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Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin conferred with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on Friday and held a number of private meetings here over the weekend with personalities ranging from New York Mayor David Dinkins to former President Richard Nixon.

But the high point of his first visit to the United States since becoming prime minister last month is expected to be his meetings with George Bush on Monday and Tuesday at the president’s vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Israeli news media predicted confidently over the weekend that the day and a half of talks in Maine would result in a public announcement on Tuesday of the administration’s decision to provide guarantees enabling Israel to borrow billions of dollars in commercial loans to aid immigrant absorption.

A senior U.S. official gave credence to those reports by telling reporters in Kennebunkport on Sunday that the United States and Israel were close to an agreement on a “large, multi-year package” of loan guarantees.

But “there are still gaps,” the official cautioned, adding: “We’ll have to let the two gentlemen work it out.”

Israeli news commentators were also upbeat on the prospects of the two leaders reaching a solid understanding, if not full agreement, on the course of future progress in the peace process.

Rabin has stressed that by agreeing to a month of peace talks in Washington, despite Israel’s preference for a venue nearer to home, he is signaling to all concerned parties that his new government “means business” on the peace front.

Israeli officials say the same message was intended by Rabin’s appointment of Tel Aviv University Professor Itamar Rabinovich, an expert on Arab affairs, as head of the negotiations with Syria, in place of hard-liner Yosef Ben-Aharon, a close aide to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

MEETING WITH CLINTON PLANNED

The Israeli side also hopes to win reinforced military support, in the form of both advanced hardware and closer intelligence cooperation, especially Israel’s access to “real time” information involving its Middle Eastern enemies.

Overshadowing the talks, however, is Bush’s mounting problems at home and abroad, including his drastic slippage in the popularity ratings.

Rabin, for his part, will be bending over backward during this visit not to be seen to be taking sides in the American election race.

He is scheduled to meet for an hour Wednesday in Washington with Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton and reportedly is taking care to say nothing that could be construed as support for either candidate.

While in Washington, the prime minister also will meet with senior Bush administration officials and members of Congress. He will return to New York on Thursday for a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Rabin’s meeting with the U.N. secretary-general on Friday focused on the Middle East peace process.

When Boutros-Ghali, who is Egyptian, expressed interest in greater U.N. involvement in the peace negotiations, Rabin reportedly emphasized politely that Israel was determined to stick to the format agreed to last fall in Madrid, which gives the United Nations only a limited observer role.

Joining the prime minister at the meeting was Tami Arad, wife of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad, who disappeared in Lebanon six years ago and is believed to be held by Shi’ite groups.

They expressed concern that the United Nations was falling behind in its commitment to secure the release of Arad and any other missing Israeli personnel who might still be held by Shi’ite groups.

According to an Israeli official, the U.N. secretary said he had personally discussed this issue with officials in Teheran and Islamabad, the capitals of Iran and neighboring Pakistan.

Earlier in the day, Rabin met with Mayor Dinkins, and on Sunday, he conferred with former President Nixon. He was scheduled to meet Sunday evening with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem.)

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