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Clinton Tries Best to Reassure Israelis About Security Concerns

When President Clinton received Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the White House last Friday, one of his main goals was to assuage Israeli security concerns that have arisen in the wake of the historic autonomy accord with the Palestinians.

It was a task complicated by the revelation that Yasir Arafat’s A1 Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization had just been linked to the Oct. 29 killing of West Bank Jewish settler Chaim Mizrachi.

The president called on Arafat to condemn the killing, but there was little more he could do to reassure the Israeli people that such terrorist incidents will cease in this difficult phase of the Middle East peace process.

All Clinton could do, in fact, was affirm that the United States is ready to assist Israel as the Israeli-Palestinian agreement is implemented.

And that is what he did at a White House news conference following his meeting with the visiting prime minister.

“During our talks, we discussed what the United States can do to enhance Israel’s security as it comes to grips with the very real risks it is taking to achieve this peace,” the president said as the two leaders stood side by side in the East Room.

He added that the United States would work with Congress to keep Israel’s foreign aid at its current level, and would try to help Israel with loan guarantees and other assistance, including defense assistance.

Rabin thanked Clinton for pledging in the course of their meeting that he would strengthen Israel’s security in a number of areas.

“Your decision to continue the level of security assistance to maintain our qualitative edge through the supply of advanced aircraft, the lifting of technological barriers, especially in the field of computers, and your decision to beef up our capacity to defend ourselves against missiles is most significant,” the prime minister said.

Rabin planned to hold meetings at the Pentagon on Monday to discuss further details of these military issues.

POLLARD CASE DISCUSSED

Clinton would not comment specifically on whether the U.S. was planning to sell Israel the advanced F-15E fighter jet, the subject of recent reports by the news media.

But he did say that “there will be a number of planes being made available to Israel as part of this ongoing effort between us.”

In response to a question, Clinton said that he was not unduly concerned by the slow pace with which the Palestinians are moving to implement the accord with Israel.

The president said the slow pace appeared not to be a delaying tactic on the part of the Palestinians, but rather a function of Palestinian inexperience in such areas as food distribution and housing construction.

Clinton and Rabin also discussed the other negotiating tracks in the Middle East peace process, with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

A breakthrough with Jordan seems imminent, but progress on the Syrian track has been slow.

Clinton said that during the meeting, Rabin reaffirmed that peace in the region “would require progress on all the tracks, including the tracks with Syria and Lebanon.”

Another issue the two leaders discussed was the controversial case of Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. civilian naval intelligence analyst who is now serving a life sentence for passing hundreds of classified documents to Israel.

Pollard’s case has been taken up by many in the Jewish community, who have petitioned Clinton to commute Pollard’s sentence.

Rabin recently sent Clinton a letter urging that Pollard’s sentence be commuted.

At the news conference Friday, Clinton said the issue had come up in the meeting, but that he could not make a decision on the Pollard case until the Justice Department had finished considering the clemency petition and forwarded a recommendation to the White House.

Sources have said the Justice Department is expected to send the recommendation to the White House in about a month.

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