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Peace Talks Are ‘front and Center’ on the U.S. Agenda, Christopher Says

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The Middle East peace talks, now set to resume next week, are “front and center” on the U.S. agenda, Secretary of State Warren Christopher assured top Jewish organizational leaders here this week.

The Jewish leaders, Lester Pollack and Malcolm Hoenlein, chairman and executive vice chairman, respectively, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said they left the meeting “reassured on virtually all the issues that we raised.”

In the 45-minute meeting Monday at the State Department, Christopher said he was optimistic that progress was possible in this next round of talks, Hoenlein reported afterward. He quoted the secretary as saying that the American commitment to the process would be evident from the administration’s actions.

Administration officials indicated that all tracks of the peace process would be given equal priority.

Israel is negotiating with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians on four separate tracks. At various points, there has been talk here of making one or another of the tracks a higher priority, in order to achieve progress on a track that seems promising at the time.

On another topic of concern to the Jewish community, Christopher said that the United States will take a clear stand on stepping up action against the Arab boycott of Israel during the meeting in Tokyo next month of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations.

Jewish groups are seeking a strong statement from the G-7 leaders against the secondary boycott of companies doing business with Israel.

They received support this week from 94 members of Congress, who signed a letter to President Clinton, initiated by Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), calling on the United States to press the G-7 nations to fight the boycott.

Schumer, who chairs the Congressional Task Force to End the Arab Boycott, said: “A formal statement by the G-7 would send an important international message that the Arab boycott is not tolerated by the major trading nations.”

Another upcoming international gathering, a special U.N. conference on human rights opening in Vienna next week, was among the items discussed Monday at the Jewish leaders’ meeting with Christopher.

Pollack and Hoenlein expressed concern that the meeting would turn into an Israel-bashing forum, and they conveyed the Jewish community’s desire that anti-Semitism be included among the human rights concerns discussed.

The two leaders said Christopher was “very responsive” on these points.

Other issues discussed at the State Department meeting included U.S. foreign aid, the fate of Israeli soldiers missing in action in Lebanon, the problems facing Syrian Jews and the effort to isolate Iran.

Summing up the session, Pollack said, “It was a very valuable exchange.”

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