Barak Concludes Washington Visit with a Basket of Gestures from Clinton
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Barak Concludes Washington Visit with a Basket of Gestures from Clinton

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak wanted to send a message to his country’s Arab neighbors that the U.S.-Israeli relationship has recovered from the tensions that marked the tenure of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Clinton helped deliver the message this week — providing glowing endorsements of the premier, holding an unusual 15 hours of meetings with Barak, agreeing to regular visits and establishing a new joint security commission.

During a six-day visit, Barak and Clinton seemed to present a united vision of how to move the peace process forward. Barak made clear he wanted to set a 15- month timetable for establishing a framework for comprehensive peace agreements with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.

If the Palestinian reaction to his visit is any indication, Barak’s message was heard loud and clear.

Concerned that Barak had succeeded in convincing Clinton to shift the American role away from mediator, which had during recent years of stalemate worked to the Palestinians’ advantage, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat dispatched one of his top deputies, Abu Mazen, to Washington to monitor Barak’s visit, which ended Tuesday.

Back in Gaza, another top Arafat peace negotiator loudly complained about Barak’s efforts.

“The American role must be defined in accordance with American interests, and it’s not up to Barak to define this role,” Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying. Barak’s call for the United States to pursue the peace process as Israel’s partner “is totally rejected by us,” Erekat said, according to the Associated Press.

At the end of his U.S. visit, Barak left Washington with a host of American gestures of support:

Clinton and Barak agreed to establish the Strategic Policy Planning Group to bolster Israel’s defense and deterrence capabilities. The group will meet at four-month intervals, and the two leaders agreed to meet regularly to review its recommendations.

Clinton and Barak put into writing a previously agreed-upon formula to reduce U.S. economic aid to Israel, currently close to $1 billion a year, by $120 million a year for the next eight years. At the same time U.S. military aid to Israel would increase by $60 million a year. At the end of the 10-year period, Israel would receive $2.4 billion a year in military aid. The codification of the agreements, subject to congressional approval, is expected to end White House efforts to end the economic aid sooner.

Clinton promised to go to Congress to seek an additional $1.2 billion of aid. This aid, which also seeks $400 million for the Palestinians and $300 million for the Jordanians, was promised during last October’s Wye peace talks. Except for a partial payment to Jordan, the aid was never delivered because of the stalemate in the peace process.

Clinton agreed to pay an estimated $200 million for a third Arrow missile battery, which is designed to destroy incoming missiles.

An Israeli astronaut and payload of Israeli experiments will be launched on a U.S. space shuttle next year, and Clinton and Barak agreed to establish a committee made up of NASA and the Israel Space Agency for the “development of practical applications in the peaceful use of space.”

“America and Israel will be taking our partnership to new heights – – literally,” Clinton said.

For his part, Barak had a few gestures for the president. In addition to praising his leadership on the Kosovo crisis, he intercepted a question for Clinton on Jonathan Pollard at a joint news conference Monday.

Taking the pressure off of Clinton to respond, Barak said, “I clearly want to see Jonathan Pollard released, but I am of the position that any public discussion of this issue doesn’t push forward the purpose of having him released. For many reasons, this is a subject that should be dealt with not in public but at most between the leaders of the two nations.”

During his meeting with Clinton, Barak raised the Pollard issue and suggested separating the fate of Pollard from the peace process, according to Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger.

At the time of the Wye accord, Netanyahu believed that he had secured Clinton’s agreement to free the former U.S. naval intelligence analyst who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.

Israel said at the time that it in exchange it had dropped its demand for the arrest of Ghazi Jabali, the Gaza Strip police chief, and had agreed to release additional Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu nearly walked out on the Wye agreement over the issue, and Clinton agreed to review the case.

Clinton has not received the report on Pollard he ordered after the Wye peace talks from White House counsel Charles Ruff.

“The president has not received the report” from Ruff and “made no commitments with regard to it,” Berger said.

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