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

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (JTA) — President Clinton”s reshuffling of his foreign policy team has prompted confidence that U.S. peacemaking in the Middle East will remain on course. By tapping Madeleine Albright to move from the top post at the United Nations to secretary of state, Clinton has signaled a clear desire to maintain continuity in U.S. diplomacy. The promotion of Samuel “Sandy”” Berger, who is Jewish, to serve as national security adviser is further evidence of this direction. “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 Dec. 5, 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, some Jewish officials breathed a sigh of relief that Clinton passed over Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott for the NSC post. Talbott, a 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. Meanwhile, Cohen, the secretary of defense-designate who will replace William Perry, has Jewish roots. He 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 twice fled her native Czechoslovakia, would become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in a U.S. Cabinet. She will replace Warren Christopher. The daughter of a Czech diplomat, Albright and her family went into exile to London after the 1938 German occupation of Czechoslovakia. They fled a second time, in 1948, after a pro-Moscow Communist coup d”etat and arrived in the United States when Albright was 11 years old. Those who know Albright say these experiences served as the defining moments of her life that influenced her policies and diplomatic advocacy. Albright “watched her world fall apart and ever since, she has dedicated her life to spreading to the rest of the world the freedom and tolerance her family found here in America,”” Clinton said last week in the Oval Office ceremony announcing her appointment. Said Ira Forman, who worked under Albright in the early 1990s at the Center for National Policy: “Madeleine”s worldview was shaped very much by the totalitarianism challenges of the 20th century.”” Forman, who now serves as the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, hailed Albright as “a very sharp individual with as sharp political skills as anyone I”ve seen in foreign policy.”” Forman”s praise was echoed by several Israeli and Jewish officials who have worked with her. 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 death of refugees by Israeli missiles at a U.N. base in Lebanon in 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. Albright has concentrated her career on Eastern and Central Europe and has little direct experience with the Middle East. Outside of the United Nations, where she implemented rather than formulated policy, she has had no direct contact with the Middle East peace process. But her supporters point out that as a senior foreign policy adviser to the Mondale and Dukakis presidential campaigns, Albright crafted a pro-Israel campaign platform. “Her support for democracy is very strong,”” Forman said. “This very much colors her view of the Middle East and Israel as its only democracy.”” In addition, he said, she “knows the basics of the conflict and the history of the region.””
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. 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 the tunnel. At the same time, however, Albright”s well-known strong-arm tactics at the U.N. at least once led other countries to abandon anti-Israel rhetoric. At the U.N. Habitat 2 conference in June in Istanbul, the U.S. delegation threatened to “hold up the entire conference”” unless the session on world housing needs eliminated language concerning Arab dwellings in Jerusalem, said Felice Gaer, director of international organizations at the American Jewish Committee. Gaer also praised Albright for her “outstanding human rights record.”” 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.”” 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.)