U.S. Official Confirms Possibility of U.S. Troops Serving on the Golan

The United States would consider sending peacekeeping troops to the Golan Heights if Syria and Israel request their presence as part of any future peace accord.

“If both parties wish the United States to be part of security arrangements on the Golan within an international context, we would consider such an action,” Robert Pelletreau, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East at a hearing on Tuesday.

“It would be premature at this point to say specifically that United States forces might be stationed on the Golan,” Pelletreau said.

But, he added, “there is an expectation by both the parties” of a U.S. presence on the Golan in the event of a peace agreement.

Pelletreau’s remarks came one week after some right-wing Jewish groups joined forces with Christian Zionists in an effort to derail any potential Israeli-Syrian peace agreement that would involve Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

The group, calling itself the Coalition for a Secure U.S.-Israel Friendship, was pushing an amendment on Capitol Hill last week that would impose burdensome restrictions on U.S. peacekeeping operations on the Golan.

Although unsuccessful in getting their amendment introduced through the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, the coalition says it hopes to find a senator to introduce the measure during floor debate on the defense authorization bill later this summer.

The coalition, which includes such groups as Americans for a Safe Israel, Jewish War Veterans and the Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign, sponsored a full-page advertisement in The New York Times last week.

The ad, intended to encourage public opposition to U.S. forces on the Golan, showed a photograph of the mutilated body of an American soldier in Somalia.

Responding to Pelletreau’s remarks this week, AFSI Executive Director Herbert Zweibon reiterated his opposition to sending any troops to the Golan.

Such action “would send a dangerous message to the citizens of Israel that our troops on the Golan guarantee there would be no attack,” Zweibon said. “That is simply not true.”

Tom Smerling, executive director of Project Nishma, a Jewish group that supports the current peace process, criticized the coalition for its approach.

“The whole issue of American troops on the Golan is a Trojan Horse for people opposed to a deal with Syria.

“It’s premature and it’s disingenuous,” Smerling said. “Instead of debating the merits of compromise with the Golan they are trying to make an end run around the Israeli government.”

Also during his testimony, Pelletreau responded to a question about Jerusalem in the wake of recent statements by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat that Jerusalem will be the capital of a future “Palestine.”

Echoing President Clinton’s comments after a March meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the assistant secretary of state said the status of Jerusalem “will only be decided between Israel and the Palestinians in the final status talks,” which are slated to begin within two years.

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