Secretary of State Solicits Views of Jewish Leaders on Mideast Policy

As the Middle East peace process heads into a critical period, Secretary of State Warren Christopher has been reaching out to American Jewish leaders, inviting them to small meetings to discuss U.S. policy toward the region.

The meetings are coming at a time of great hope and continued worries for American Jewry.

As most American Jews rejoice over the recent Israeli-Palestinian accord, there are still important questions in their minds about the future shape of the Middle East peace process, Syria’s role in the talks and the apparent lack of progress in dismantling the Arab economic boycott against Israel.

On Monday, Christopher met separately with two small groups of Jewish leaders to discuss the peace process, the boycott, U.S. loan guarantees to Israel and Iran’s weapons development program.

And last week, the secretary met with two top officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The meetings were all at Christopher’s request.

A State Department official said Monday that the sessions were part of a series of meetings with interested parties in which the department sought to explain U.S. policy, especially in light of the recent Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Smaller meetings, the official said, enabled the secretary to hear a wide range of views.

But the official said it was doubtful more such meetings would occur in the very near future, because the secretary is leaving the country Wednesday.

PROGRESS ON BOYCOTT POSSIBLE

A half-hour meeting Monday morning included David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Linda Kamm and Richard Gunther, co-presidents-elect of Americans for Peace Now; and journalist John Wallach, who founded the “Seeds of Peace” camp for Israeli and Arab youths.

The secretary also held a 45-minute session Monday afternoon with Lester Pollack, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Malcolm Hoenlein, the umbrella group’s executive vice chairman; Melvin Salberg, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League; and Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director.

According to Pollack, who served as the delegation’s spokesman, Christopher said the peace process was moving along, as demonstrated by the fact that envoy Dennis Ross was in the region.

Pollack said Christopher also pledged the administration would continue pushing Arab countries to end their economic boycott. The boycott affects both Israel and companies doing business with the Jewish state.

The secretary expressed optimism that positive developments would occur before the next Arab League meeting, where Arab countries could add more companies to the boycott list.

On the topic of U.S. loan guarantees to Israel, the secretary said the United States and Israel were trying to work out a way to redefine legislative requirements that resulted in Washington slapping a $437 million penalty on Israel’s second $2 billion installment of loan guarantees.

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