Clinton pledges new aid to Israel Offer of planes, computer technology comes during meeting with Rabin

November 13, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton pledged yesterday to boost Israel's military edge with advanced aircraft and computer technology as the Jewish state moves with difficulty into a new phase of negotiations with Arab neighbors.

The promise, which will take shape during Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's talks at the Pentagon next week, is aimed in part at easing the Israeli public's security fears arising from violent opposition to Israel's agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

A renewed sense of security will be particularly important if Israelis are to be persuaded to yield the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria, their most militarily powerful negotiating partner.

At a joint White House news conference with Mr. Rabin, the president said he was working on an agreement to "make available a number of planes to the Israelis." These may include the F-15 E, the most advanced fighter-bomber in the U.S. arsenal.

In addition, Mr. Rabin said the president had vowed to lift barriers to the transfer of new computer technology and would "beef up our capacity to defend ourselves against missiles." This refers to the joint Israeli-U.S. Arrow missile-defense project.

Reaffirming his commitment not to cut U.S. aid to Israel, which at more than $3 billion a year far exceeds aid to any other country, Mr. Clinton also said he would consult with Congress on allowing Israel to expand the use of $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to cover some of Israel's costs in implementing its accord with the PLO.

The loan guarantees were originally intended to aid absorption of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But Israel now faces added costs in redeploying its troops from positions in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli public's qualms about the PLO accords have made Mr. Rabin reluctant to offer major concessions in negotiations with Syria. As a result, bilateral talks in Washington between Israel and its Arab neighbors have been stalled indefinitely.

But Israel has made substantial gains in semi-secret talks with top Jordanians -- including, reportedly, King Hussein -- and recently reached an informal agreement on banking and financial issues.

Mr. Rabin indicated clearly yesterday that a secret channel would be helpful in negotiations with Syria and with Lebanon, which is heavily influenced by Damascus.

"The less the talks are exposed to the limelight of the media, the better are the chances to achieve agreements," he said, urging Mr. Clinton and Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher to "assist in facilitating this particular mode of negotiations."

In a concession to Israel, Mr. Clinton promised that when he receives a recommendation from the Justice Department, he will decide whether to reduce the life sentence being served by Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel in the mid-1980s.

Mr. Rabin has asked that the sentence be cut to 10 years, and some American Jewish groups have joined in the appeal.

Appeals to the Bush administration by Israel went nowhere. But yesterday, Mr. Clinton said, "Under the United States NTC Constitution I do not have to follow the recommendation of the Justice Department, but under our procedures I have to get one. And when I get one -- it won't be too long in the future -- I will then review it and make a decision."

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