Rabin's Talks In Washington To Focus On Syria

Israeli PM may also appeal to Clinton about granting clemency to U.S. Jew convicted of spying

Graham Fraser - The Globe and Mail (Toronto) - November 12, 1992


- Syria and a spy will be on the agenda as Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin meets U.S. President Bill Clinton at the White House today.

Mr. Rabin arrived in Washington yesterday to begin a 10-day visit to the United States and Canada, and he is expected to raise strategic questions concerning talks with Syria and renew his appeal for the United States to grant clemency to an American Jew convicted of spying for Israel. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Clinton indicated that, although he was "delighted by the reports of progress in the relationships between Israel and Jordan," he did not expect that a peace treaty between the two countries would actually be signed today when he meets Mr. Rabin.

"My guess," said William Quandt, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, "is that they will spend a fair amount of time discussing Syria - timing, process, whether Clinton should go to the region. They both would like Syria to join the game."

One of the topics they may discuss will be the role U.S. troops could play when Israel eventually withdraws from the Golan Heights.

Joyce Starr of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said: "U.S. troops is the issue. But that is a double-edged sword. We did very well in the Sinai, but very poorly in Mogadishu. I don't think U.S. troops could hold the Golan Heights unless the actors involved want them there." Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967.

Mr. Clinton also acknowledged that he had received a letter from Mr. Rabin asking him to reduce the prison term of Jonathan Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy who was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison for spying for Israel.

"I have asked the Justice Department to review his case, as I do in every request for executive clemency." Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton is the first president of the three who have held office since Mr. Pollard's conviction to acknowledge that Israel has requested clemency. Justice Department officials apparently have argued against granting the request, fearing it would set a precedent for other appeals from other countries.

Mr. Pollard was convicted of passing military secrets to Israel, including information on Arab military systems and satellite photographs of military installations. He claimed the information was vital for Israel's defence and was being withheld by Washington.

State Department and outside analysts agree that the nature of U.S. involvement in the Middle East has changed under the Clinton administration. One State Department official noted that former secretary of state James Baker had traveled to the region eight times in one year to start the Madrid peace process.

"That's inconceivable now." Mr. Quandt said.

The major issue on the U.S. foreign policy agenda is the North American free-trade agreement. Since the signing of a peace accord by Mr. Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat in September, Mideast discussions have acquired their own momentum.

"I think Rabin is leading the game and not Clinton," Ms. Starr said. "It's like the peace agreement. Clinton was a great band leader - but he didn't write the music."

After six days in the United States Mr. Rabin will travel to Canada. He is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Jean Chretien next Wednesday.