Rabin's Visit Signals New US-Israel Tone with Warm Welcome, US President Tries to Establish Trust. WHITE HOUSE DIPLOMACY

Article excerpt

THE Clinton administration this week did its best to act friendlier to Israel than its Republican predecessor ever did.

On his first visit to the Clinton White House, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin received warm support, plus a promise that United States aid won't be cut and a hint of greater strategic cooperation in the future. The young, gregarious, nonsmoking American president even found some personal common ground with his older, formal, chain-smoking Israeli counterpart: policy wonkdom.

"They engaged deeply with one another on the substantive issues and got quickly into them," said a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on the visit on condition his name not be used.

The effect of this new rapport on the Middle East peace process is unclear. Perhaps the Israeli Labor prime minister, sure of US support, will feel secure enough to make breakthrough land-for-peace concessions. Or perhaps he will feel secure enough to make no real concessions at all.

Palestinians are already accusing Mr. Clinton of pro-Israeli bias. In general, Arabs appear anxious about the absence of George Bush and James Baker, whom they considered relatively fair arbiters.

It remains to be seen whether Clinton has "a personal commitment in the same magnitude and in the same direction as that displayed by Bush and Baker," says Khalil Jhashan, executive director of the National Association of Arab Americans.

US officials say that their primary objective for Mr. Rabin's visit was to build trust and confidence between the two leaders. Relations between President Bush and conservative Likud Prime Minister Shamir were notoriously frosty, and a Democratic administration widely seen as more pro-Israeli wanted to change the atmosphere.

Thus the reassurance on aid. Key members of Congress have been discussing a reduction in the level of US support for Israel, now at around $3 billion a year in military and economic funds. But Clinton stressed to Rabin that he would try to keep aid from being reduced not only next year, but for the foreseeable future.

Rabin repeated that he is ready to compromise on the issue of pulling back from the Golan Heights. …


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