WASHINGTON -- President Bush pledged not to make peace with Iraq at Israel's expense, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir reported yesterday, as the United States and Israel made cautious early moves to restart the search for Middle East peace once the Persian Gulf crisis is settled.
Mr. Shamir was expected to hold what his spokesman said was "evidently a meeting of importance" today with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze. The Soviet Union, which has not formally restored relations with Israel that were broken in 1967, has pressed for an international conference to settle a range of Middle East disputes.
At a White House meeting yesterday between Mr. Bush and Mr. Shamir, the two discussed having the United States dispatch a top State Department aide, Dennis Ross, to Israel to lay the groundwork for resuming the peace process.
"We welcome the visit by Dennis Ross," said Avi Pazner, an adviser to Mr. Shamir, while adding that both the United States and Israel recognized "we can't achieve great things" with the gulf crisis overshadowing all other developments in the region.
Emerging from what, by U.S. and Israeli accounts, was a friendly session free of recent U.S.-Israeli tension and mistrust, Mr. Shamir said, "I trust the president, what he said. He has said it several times, and he said it to me now again -- that there will not be any deal [with Iraq] at the expense of Israel."
Mr. Pazner said the prime minister came away more assured of the United States' "determination" to bring the crisis to a solution that would fulfil the U.N. Security Council requirements of a total Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
Israeli officials recently have expressed concern about American resolve, fearing a negotiated end to the crisis that would leave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's military strength intact.
Mr. Bush also reiterated his determination not to allow any linkage to develop between ending Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Israeli and U.S. officials said.
Mr. Bush "expressed appreciation for the low profile that the government of Israel has taken during the [gulf] crisis," said John Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
"The question of the status and the treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories was raised by the president, but there was not an explicit discussion of the Temple Mount incident," Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Shamir, expressing Israeli joy at the flood of Soviet immigrants to his country, asked in general terms for more financial help in settling them. The United States has provided loan guarantees of $400 million for housing, after getting a pledge that the money would not be spent in the occupied territories.
"The president said that obviously we want to see how the housing loan guarantee program, which is just getting off the ground, goes," Mr. Kelly explained. "The president made no commitment other than a general interest in being supportive."