President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir met Tuesday, and the most telling aspects of their conversation were the issues they avoided.
In nearly two hours of talks, Bush did not mention Israel’s refusal to abide by a U.N. Security Council resolution ordering an investigation into the killing of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount earlier this fall.
And Shamir avoided emphasizing his government’s determination to resist an international peace conference on the Middle East, a step many diplomats believe could help resolve the Persian Gulf crisis and one which the Administration has favored, under certain conditions, in the past.
Instead, the two resolutely emphasized the positive. Bush complimented Shamir for Israel’s “low profile” policy toward the crisis in the Persian Gulf. Shamir told reporters after the meeting that “I trust the President” and said Bush assured him that in trying to end the conflict with Iraq, “there will not be any deal at the expense of Israel.”
Shamir, who also met with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, plans to meet today with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who will be here for his own meeting with Bush. The meeting, the second between the Soviet and Israeli officials, comes as part of a series of high-level contacts as the two nations seek to warm their long-chilled relations.
Although officials from both governments praised the “positive” tone of the Bush-Shamir meetings, they also made clear that no progress had been made toward finding a formula that might bring the region a step toward peace.
In fact, there was “a general agreement that with what is going on in the gulf, this is not exactly the best of times” for peace proposals, Avi Pazner, an adviser and spokesman for Shamir, told reporters after the meeting.
Dennis Ross, a top aide to Secretary of State James A. Baker III, plans to travel to Israel next week to discuss Arab-Israeli talks, U.S. and Israeli officials said.
Administration officials, who had avoided scheduling a Bush-Shamir meeting for months, hope the long-delayed visit will help Bush domestically by bolstering support for his gulf policies among backers of Israel.
At the same time, they have been eager to keep Israeli support for U.S. policies low-key, fearing that any overt Israeli involvement in the crisis would wreck cooperation with Arab members of the anti-Iraq coalition.
In recent days, some Israeli officials have suggested that Israel might strike against Iraq’s military if the United States reaches a gulf settlement that leaves Saddam Hussein’s army intact. But Shamir avoided any such statements, saying that he offered “full support for the leadership of the President” and that Bush, in turn, “expressed his support for our behavior, for our policy.”
For his part, Shamir has been looking for reassurances about the shape of U.S. relations with Israel once the gulf crisis is ended. He is also hoping for additional U.S. aid to handle the large numbers of Jewish refugees continuing to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel.
Officials estimate that as many as 1 million immigrants could arrive in Israel by the middle of the decade, costing the country as much as $40 billion to house and settle.
Bush gave Shamir at least some of what he wanted. Bush “assured” Shamir that although the United States wants to “help out with the legitimate self-defense needs of our Arab friends,” the Administration “will maintain a qualitative edge in armaments for Israel,” according to Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly, who briefed reporters after the meeting.
But the President was less forthcoming on the issue of immigration, telling Shamir only that his request for additional assistance would be “debated,” Shamir said in brief comments to reporters.
“The President made no commitment other than a general interest in being supportive,” Kelly said.
The issue of immigration aid has been difficult for the Administration for two reasons--the continuing tight federal budget and questions over whether Israel would use the money to settle immigrants in the West Bank territories.
In briefing reporters on the Bush-Shamir meeting, Kelly insisted that the avoidance of the Temple Mount issue “was not a pre-decided tactic on our part.”
“The conversation evolved that way,” he said. “Conversations flow naturally, and they take the course that they take.”