Secretary of State James Baker believes the Middle East peace process is “moving along extremely well.”
Baker made this assessment during a meeting Monday with 16 members of the American Jewish Congress, according to Robert Lifton, the organization’s president.
Lifton said the group received the same assessment from Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval, with whom it had met earlier.
But Henry Siegman, the group’s executive director, observed that while there has been progress in the five rounds of direct talks, no “major breakthrough” has been achieved.
Lifton said his group thanked Baker for bringing about the peace talks and for his efforts to win freedom for Syrian Jews, which bore fruit last week when Damascus announced that it was lifting longstanding travel restrictions against the Jewish community.
But the AJCongress leaders expressed the disappointment of the American Jewish community that the Bush administration has failed to give Israel guarantees for $10 billion in loans it wants to borrow to aid immigrant absorption.
Lifton said the Jewish participants found it “heartening” that Baker said the issue “was not foreclosed” and that the administration still wants to bridge its differences with Israel and with Congress over the guarantees.
The administration has refused to approve the guarantees unless Israel halts the building of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Baker also understands Israel’s urgent need for the guarantees and spoke of the dangers facing Jews in the former Soviet Union, Siegman said.
The AJCongress delegation did not seek to negotiate the issue, Lifton stressed.
Baker also said that the “fundamental relations between Israel and the United States are as strong as ever,” Lifton reported.
The group left the State Department assured that Baker and his top aides on Middle East affairs have the interest of Israel at heart, Lifton said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.