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Jewish Leaders Tell Clinton to Be Wary of Syria’s Pledges

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is calling on the Clinton administration not to “accept empty promises” from Syria at the coming meeting between Syrian President Hafez Assad and President Clinton.

Lester Pollack, chairman of the umbrella organization, said this week that the conference is hopeful progress can be made on the Israeli-Syrian negotiating track, but that the United States should not accept statements by Assad as evidence of any breakthrough.

Pollack, backing up his cautious stance with the Syrians, pointed to the recent promises by Assad to issue exit visas to Syrian Jews by Dec. 31.

“To date, this process has not been fulfilled,” Pollack said, noting that only 350 visas have so far been issued – and none to entire families.

There are about 1,350 Jews now living in Syria.

Pollack and Malcolm Hoenlein, the organization’s vice chairman, spoke at a news conference after a series of meetings with Israeli leaders.

The United States has taken a low profile in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the conference leaders said they hoped the same principle would be applied to the talks with Syria.

“The message has to be very clear to Assad that the address for (negotiations) has to be Jerusalem and not Washington,” said Hoenlein. “There can’t be an end- run around Israel.”

“We’ve been assured that the U.S. role will not change,” he added.

Meanwhile, the two said that during their visit they reported to Israeli officials on organizational efforts coordinated by the conference to educate the American Jewish community about the peace process, about which Hoenlein conceded there is “not a lot of awareness.”

They also said they reassured the Israeli leadership that there is a consensus of support for the process, despite concerns about violence and terrorism.

“There are a lot of rumors” in Israel about the attitudes of the American Jewish community, said Hoenlein, “but there is a difference between opposition and concern.”

“The euphoric period is over and people are looking pragmatically at the achievability” of the agreement, Pollack said.

Hoenlein said the Israeli government showed “great understanding of the need to keep American Jews informed” and a “real sensitivity to the need to do even more” than it has done.

He said American Jewish leaders had exerted no pressure whatsoever on organized Jewry to present a more unified position or to stop offering occasional forums to members of the Israeli opposition.

Pollack and Hoenlein also briefed Israeli leaders about their efforts to end the Arab boycott, which Pollack called “morally reprehensible” and inconsistent with the spirit of the recent mutual recognition agreement between Israel and the PLO.

They also briefed leaders here on their attempt to stop the transfer of dual- use technology to Iran and other countries capable of producing non- conventional weapons.

The conference is also trying to help resolve the cases of the Israeli soldiers missing in action, the organization’s leaders said.

They held their news conference on the same day a U.S. congressional delegation arrived in Israel on a regional mission to determine the soldiers’ fate.

Meanwhile, the two Jewish leaders said the conference would meet this week in New York with U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, in advance of his visit to Israel next week.

According to Hoenlein, Brown is coming to Israel in his role as head of the joint U.S.-Israel Science and Technology commission and to further efforts of Builders for Peace, a U.S. group working on investment and development opportunities in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.

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