Vice President Al Gore, here on a 24-hour whirlwind visit, had pledged the American government’s “iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security and well-being as Israel takes risks for peace.”
Gore arrived Monday night in Israel after a brief visit to Egypt, where he discussed the Syrian peace track with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Less than three hours after touching down at Ben-Gurion Airport, the vice president was feted at a state dinner at the Knesset.
On Tuesday, Gore’s packed schedule included a working session with Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Ehud Barak, a visit to the grave of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and a meeting in Jericho with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and leading Palestinian businessmen.
Although it did not appear on the official White House news release spelling out Gore’s itinerary, the vice president also paid a condolence call to Leah Rabin and met with the families of Israel’s missing soldiers.
During a joint news conference after their session, a smiling Peres said, “We discussed everything dry or wet – we discussed irrigated as well [as water rights]. For us it was a highly encouraging meeting.”
Gore said he had come to Israel to “again affirm the unswerving commitment of the American people and of President Clinton to work with you to achieve peace between Israel and Syria, and between Israel and Lebanon; and to achieve a comprehensive peace that will end Arab-Israeli conflict.”
In an obvious allusion to upcoming national elections in both Israel and the United States, Gore said, “Although time is short, I am convinced that with courage, creativity and commitment we can achieve a breakthrough this year.”
In addition to the peace process, Gore also fielded question on American ties with Tunisia, the U.S. budget standoff and Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.
Asked to confirm or deny rumors that President Clinton has turned down Pollard’s request for clemency, Gore said the issue “has not reached the president’s desk.”
“The process now under way has not yet produced a recommendation,” he said. “When that process has been concluded, he will examine it. At his point it is premature.”
In addition, the vice president denied that he had canceled a planned stopover in Tunisia after that country failed to open an interest section in Israel.
“I have had a very productive and constructive dialogue with the Tunisian leadership,” Gore said, adding that he would have flown Tuesday to Tunisia, but that he needed to return to Washington for budget talks.
With a laugh, Gore continued, “You know our government runs out of money again the 26th of this month. It’s embarrassing.”
Taking his cues from the vice president, Peres chimed in, “You can use some foreign aid.”