Baker Says Saudis Making Progress Toward Ending Anti-israel Boycott

Progress is being made with Saudi Arabia to end the Arab boycott against Israel, White House Chief of Staff James Baker has assured Jewish organizational leaders.

The subject of the boycott came up during an hour-long meeting Baker held here Thursday with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the conference, reported after the meeting that Baker had told the Jewish leaders that the “Saudis are moving slowly” on the boycott issue and that, from his viewpoint, ”they need to move slowly.”

“But he felt there was progress,” she added.

A top White House official, who asked not to be identified, said the Saudis are “close to the stage where they would not enforce the boycott” against companies doing business with Israel.

The official added that the change in the Saudi position is unrelated to the proposed sale of 72 advanced F-15 fighter aircraft to the kingdom.

“We were raising the boycott issue long before the F-15 sale,” the official said. “It is important in its own right.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents, said the group discussed with Baker their concerns over the F-15 sale and the need for Israel to maintain a qualitative edge in the region.

He said that even if the Saudis ended their boycott, it would not eliminate Israel’s concerns about the strategic impact of the sale.

Cardin said the Pentagon and the Israeli Defense Ministry are negotiating in “five areas’” to help maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the face of the F-15 sale.

Negotiations are continuing between high-level military and technical experts from both countries that, if successful, would provide Israel with increased access to American intelligence and high-technology equipment.

The group is also negotiating the storage of American military equipment in Israel, which would be drawn down for Israel and the United States should the need arise.

Cardin said Baker expressed his complete trust in the relations between the United States and the current Israeli government.

She said that the former secretary of state was, in general, “very positive because the peace process has moved to a point where they are no longer posturing.”

Hoenlein said that like Baker, the Conference of Presidents has been pleased with the outcome of the peace talks so far.

“Each round has made more progress than anticipated,” he said. “The chief of staff said that we cannot afford to lose this opportunity.”

But at the same time, Hoenlein cautioned against inflated expectations.

“People have to be patient and look forward to long-term progress,” he said. The peace talks are “a terrific opportunity for the region, not only with the Syrians, but with the Palestinians as well.”

During the meeting with Baker, Cardin handed him a petition she had received from a Moslem group in the strife-torn former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina. It asked the Jewish organization’s help in ending the Serbian “pogrom and extermination” of their people.

“They said that we will understand,” Hoenlein said. “As Jews, we cannot be silent.”

Cardin said Baker was “moved”‘ by the two-page petition, which asked the group: “Would the Jewish people not raise their voices?”

[Author Affiliation]

States News Service

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