WASHINGTON (Jun. 20)
In a demonstration that his administration is pushing for progress this year in the Middle East peace talks, President Clinton told visiting King Hussein of Jordan on Friday that he would take a “direct role” in the talks and nominated a veteran diplomat involved in the negotiations to become U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Sources said the nominee, Edward Djerejian, who is currently serving as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, would not be leaving for Israel until the end of the year, because the administration wants to keep its team handling the peace talks in place until then.
Djerejian, who has also served as ambassador to Syria, is well-regarded both by Israelis and by their Arab negotiating partners.
The White House also announced late Friday that Dennis Ross, another member of the American peace talks team, would be staying on at the State Department as special coordinator for the talks.
Ross, who was a key Middle East adviser in the Bush administration, had been expected to return to academia in the near future. Like Djerejian, Ross is well-respected by all sides in the peace process.
White House-Press Secretary-Dee Dee Myers told reporters Friday that in his two-hour meeting with King Hussein, “the president said he was going to take a real direct role” in the peace talks.
She would not clarify exactly what type of “direct role” the president planned to take in the bilateral talks Israel is holding separately with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians, which are now in their 10th round.
“He’s going to just make sure that the process proceeds on track,” Myers said. “And we look forward to progress.”
‘A HIGH-PROFILE APPOINTMENT’
Some observers of the peace process have said that higher-level American participation is needed to achieve real progress in the talks.
Myers said that among the issues Clinton and the king discussed was the leaders’ “shared commitment to achieving tangible progress in the Middle East peace process this year.”
Sources said William Brown, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who is serving now as acting ambassador, will stay on until Djerejian arrives at the end of the year.
There were reports in Israel that Daniel Kurtzer, Djerejian’s deputy, would be named U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, a post that typically involves diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians in the administered territories. But reliable sources here in Washington said Kurtzer had not been offered any such posting.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Sunday that the Jewish community welcomes the Djerejian and Ross appointments.
The Djerejian appointment, he said, is “a high-profile appointment that shows the importance attached to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“We worked very closely with him,” he said, “and will regret his leaving.”
But he pointed out that Djerejian’s departure would not create a “vacuum” in the administration’s group of experts working on the peace talks because of the presence of such veterans as Samuel Lewis, a former ambassador to Israel who now serves as director of the State Department’s policy planning staff.
TOUGH STANCE ON SANCTIONS
Hoenlein praised Djerejian’s actions on behalf of Syrian Jewry both during his time as ambassador and as assistant secretary.
At the same time, he called Ross’ decision to stay in government “a very positive sign.”
King Hussein arrived in Washington in the middle of a controversy over a recent congressional report stating that Jordan had passed U.S., allied and Israeli military information to Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, and that Bush administration officials were aware of this.
The State Department has disputed the report’s conclusions. “There was no evidence to verify those reports,” State Department spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters last Thursday.
The Israeli Embassy here had no comment on the controversy.
Clinton told reporters after meeting with King Hussein that the two leaders had “talked a little” about Iraq and “the imperative nature of continuing to enforce” international sanctions against Baghdad by “being very tough on them.”
Myers said that Clinton had made it clear to the king that maintaining sanctions against Iraq was “incredibly important to the United States.”
“It was a very good meeting,” Clinton said of his session with King Hussein, the first between the two. “I enjoyed it very much.”