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BEHIND THE HEADLINES New U.S. foreign policy team likely to stay the Mideast course

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (JTA) — President Clinton”s reshuffling of his foreign policy team has left many observers confident that the changes will have little immediate impact on Middle East peacemaking. By tapping Madeleine Albright to move from the top post at the United Nations to secretary of state, Clinton has clearly signaled a desire to maintain continuity in U.S. diplomacy. This is further evidenced by the promotion of Samuel “Sandy”” Berger, who is Jewish, to serve as national security adviser. “This signals that there will be continuity and that the Clinton administration will maintain the approach of fostering the peace process without imposing decisions on the parties,”” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In other appointments announced Thursday, Clinton fulfilled a promise to name at least one Republican to the Cabinet by nominating retiring Sen. William Cohen of Maine to serve as secretary of defense. Current National Security Adviser Anthony Lake was nominated to head the Central Intelligence Agency. In welcoming the appointments, Jewish officials breathed a sigh of relief that Clinton passed over Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott for the NSC post. Talbott, an old friend of Clinton”s from his college days, has been a source of controversy in the Jewish community for what many considered anti-Israel reporting for Time magazine.
Talbott will remain in his post and is heading the transition at the State Department. Cohen, the secretary of defense-designate who will replace William Perry, has spoken in the past of casting off a Jewish star he wore as a young teen, when a Maine rabbi refused to perform a Bar Mitzvah unless he formally converted. Cohen”s father is Jewish, but his mother is not. Several Jewish officials familiar with his situation said Cohen still bears the scar of a 13-year-old being denied his wish to have a Bar Mitzvah. Cohen no longer considers himself Jewish. But that experience “has not impacted on his relations with the Jewish community or his support for Israel and Jewish causes,”” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Of all the new appointees, however, it is Albright who will work most closely with Israel at a critical time in the Middle East peace process. Israeli and Palestinian negotiations have been stalled over a lack of agreement on the redeployment of Israeli troops in Hebron. At the same time, Arab countries, led by Egypt, are pressuring Israel to move forward with the peace accords. The 59-year-old Albright, who emigrated with her family from Czechoslovakia to escape the Communist takeover, would become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in a U.S. Cabinet. She will replace Warren Christopher. Under the Constitution, Albright, whose nomination is not expected to generate Senate opposition, would be fourth in line of succession if the president could not serve. Israeli and Jewish officials who have worked with her had only praise for her past performance. “Madeleine Albright brings with her the personal experiences of having fled Nazi totalitarianism. She has shown that it has meaning in her life,”” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, referring to her family”s flight from Czechoslovakia. David Peleg, Israel”s acting ambassador to the United Nations, said, “Ambassador Albright combines great professionalism and understanding of the international scene with great sympathy and friendship with Israel and clear support for the peace process.”” He said Albright”s support for Israel was “especially clear”” during “more difficult times.”” He singled out the Israeli killing of refugees at a U.N. base in Lebanon last May, which prompted Security Council debate but no official condemnation of Israel. He also said she helped temper U.N. reaction in September to Israel”s opening of a new entrance to a Jerusalem tunnel and the violence it triggered between Israelis and Palestinians.
While many believe that U.S. relations with Israel will move forward with no change, others believe that it is unclear exactly how Albright will approach the Middle East. “The United Nations is a very visible position, but not a very powerful position,”” said Daniel Pipes, a Middle East analyst and editor of the Middle East Quarterly. “To a large extent she was implementing others decisions.”” Albright shed some light on her thinking last month when she addressed these issues at a gathering of the ADL, which presented her with the Distinguished Statesman Award. “The courage of the Israelis and Palestinians who believe in peace is being tested once again as they struggle with U.S. help, to meet the challenge of implementing the Interim Agreement,”” she said at the ADL”s annual meeting Nov. 7. “If Israel will take risks for peace, America will do all it can to minimize those risks. “We have also insisted that the Palestinian authorities do all they can to halt terrorist actions,”” she said. Previewing her approach to peacemaking with Syria, Albright said, “We will persist with the parties in the search for the basis on which negotiations between Israel and Syria could resume, negotiations that must produce real peace and real security for the Israeli people.”” During her almost four-year tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Albright has at times clashed with some Jewish groups. Most recently, some criticized her for not taking a tougher stand against a resolution that criticized Israel for opening the new entrance to an archeological tunnel. Albright acknowledged in her speech to the ADL that the “U.N. has not always been a hospitable place for Israel.”” “We will work hard to prevent the U.N., especially the Security Council, from doing or saying anything that would disrupt the peace process or harm Israel”s interests.”” She added, “Needless to say, our job will be easier if there is steady, substantive progress in negotiations.”” Morton Klein, who as president of the Zionist Organization of America has opposed many of Albright”s votes at the U.N., tepidly welcomed her nomination. “Of the people being mentioned, Albright was the best of those,”” Klein said. “Nevertheless, we at ZOA are disappointed that during her tenure at the U.N., Ambassador Albright failed to veto anti-Israel resolutions calling Jerusalem `occupied territory,” condemning states which may consider moving their embassies to Jerusalem and refusing to veto a resolution on the tunnel issue which expressed sympathy for the Arabs, condemned Israeli self-defense and made no condemnation of Arab aggression.”” Pending Senate confirmation, Albright has a tough road ahead as she will seek to stave off further cuts in funding for U.S. diplomacy. “Isolationism is seductive. It is liberating. It means you don”t have to care,”” Albright said when discussing her philosophy toward diplomacy at the ADL meeting. “Too many people in too many countries cared too little about what went on in hard-to-find, hard-to-spell places, places such as Manchuria, Ethiopia, my native Czechoslovakia, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Buchenwald and Dachau. We must never make that mistake again.”” (JTA staff writer Cynthia Mann in New York contributed to this report.)

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