Visiting Sharon will try to win U.S. support


WASHINGTON, March 15 (JTA) — When he arrives in Washington next week on his inaugural tour as Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon will have two main tasks: building support for Israeli efforts to quell Palestinian violence, and working to ingratiate himself with Israel’s most important ally.

Sharon will arrive in Washington on Sunday evening. The highlights of his visit are a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference Monday evening and a lunch meeting with President Bush on Tuesday.

In his meetings with U.S. officials, Sharon will try to gain support for Israel’s perspective on the causes of the past half-year of violence and its conditions for resuming peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

“I think he would like a greater understanding for the predicament that Israel finds itself in with the current intifada,” or Palestinian uprising, said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In a meeting with Jewish leaders on Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he understood Israel’s predicament and said the Palestinians must reduce their violence before peace talks can resume.

Sharon will meet with Powell on Monday, as well as with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Bush administration will be asking if Israel will restrict its military reaction to Palestinian violence to “what is absolutely necessary.”

“That becomes absolutely critical, given the American strategic interests in the Arab world,” Cordesman said. “Standing strong with Israel is not going to be a blank check.”

The United States has been pressing Israel to release tax revenues it collects for the Palestinian Authority, which Palestinian Authority. President Yasser Arafat claims he needs to pay salaries. The Bush administration is likely to press the tax issue again on Sharon’s visit.

With Palestinian Authority security forces implicated in numerous recent terror attacks, however, the Israeli government has refused to release the money. Sharon told visiting European Union officials this week that it is “immoral” to ask Israel to pay the salaries of those shooting at Israeli civilians.

In addition, the PLO is estimated to have billions of dollars in assets worldwide, Sharon noted, and is far from destitute.

Analysts said Bush will be looking for a roadmap from Sharon for how to advance toward peace once the violence subsides.

Robert Malley, former director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council, said Sharon may have some new proposals for peace negotiations that he has not yet released publicly but may share with the Bush administration.

One purpose of the visit will be to coordinate the agendas of two administrations still in their infancy, Cordesman said.

“This isn’t a meeting where two people are coming together to decide the future of the region,” he said. “The options for both sides are very limited.”

Sharon also hopes to win over an American audience that still links him with the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

“It’s important for him to shape his public image,” Makovsky said.

Also on the agenda will be the Iraqi threat to Mideast stability, and how to respond to any attempt by Arab countries to link their support for America’s Iraq policy to Israeli concessions toward the Palestinians.

“I think linkage is a fact of life, I don’t think it’s a policy,” Malley said. “Clearly the United States has goals toward Iraq, and in the event they impact the goals on the Palestinian front, they come into play.”

Sharon also has said he will ask Bush to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who passed secrets to Israel.

Sharon also will meet with congressional leaders and is expected to lobby for the supplemental aid package for Israel that President Clinton proposed at the end of Congress’ last session.

From Washington, Sharon will travel Wednesday to New York, where he will meet with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He also will speak to U.S. business leaders at the New York Stock Exchange.

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