Hussein, Rabin address Congress

July 27, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin continued their transformation from warriors to comrades yesterday by jointly enlisting Congress in a dream of normal ties between their peoples.

In a first-ever joint appearance by Israeli and Arab leaders before a combined session of Congress, the Jordanian king and the Israeli prime minister spoke as old soldiers eager to heal the physical and emotional scars of war with what Mr. Rabin called "a wonderful, common future."

This was the second day of a televised Washington media spectacle for the two peacemakers after their signing of a declaration Monday ending a 46-year state of war between their nations.

It served to show a resistant Syrian President Hafez el Assad what he is missing by not coming to terms with Israel and helping mend President Clinton's ragged foreign-policy record.

After recalling the names and personal histories of Israeli guestsin the House gallery who had fought or lost loved ones in warswith Jordan and now yearned for peace, Mr. Rabin said, "The Middle East that was a valley of the shadow of death will be a place where it is a pleasure to live."

Each leader joined in when members of Congress gave the other a standing ovation, and each used subtle gestures, smiles and ** nods to help each other through the unprecedented ceremony.

Their speeches -- the king's in a hushed bass, Mr. Rabin's in a guttural rasp -- were clearly intended to spur congressional generosity by enveloping lawmakers in their embrace and hopes of a peaceful legacy.

Turning across the dais to his new partner, Mr. Rabin said: "Your Majesty, we have both seen a lot in our lifetime. We have both seen too much suffering. What will you leave to your children? What will I leave to my grandchildren?"

King Hussein assured the lawmakers and a gallery that included Cabinet officers, foreign ambassadors and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that "we want normality and

humanity to become the prevailing order."

In what may have been an allusion to his own years of secret meetings with Israeli leaders, the king said: "It is unnatural not to have direct and open meetings between our respective officials and their leaders . . . . It is unnatural not to wish to bridge this gulf across which we have all paid a shattering toll in blood and tears."

Members of Congress appeared overwhelmed by the historic occasion.

"I've been around here for a while, and I can't remember a day like today," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the House majority leader, said: "I dare say that the two speeches we heard today were the most moving, dramatic and historic speeches that any of us have ever heard."

Mr. Clinton, vowing that "America will stand by those who take risksfor peace," later backed Jordan's pitch for $700 million in debt relief and supplies of ammunition and spare parts. But the king indicated before Congress that he needs more.

"The healing hand of the international community is now essential," he said, because "unless peace can be made real to the men, women and children of the Middle East, the best efforts of negotiators will come to naught."

Echoing the same sentiment at a White House news conference for the two leaders and Mr. Clinton, Mr. Rabin said the benefits of peace need to be brought home to the man in the street in Tel Aviv and Amman.

"We need your assistance, Mr. President," he said.

The joint appearance on Capitol Hill meant that Mr. Rabin, who is popular with Congress and is supported by a strong U.S. lobby, was lending his prestige and clout to the king's effort to rebuild Jordan's friendly relations with the United States that were shattered by his support for Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf war.

Although King Hussein had held back as Egypt and the Palestinians did the early groundbreaking for peace, Mr. Rabin told him, "The State of Israel thanks you . . . for accepting our hand in peace, for your political wisdom and courage."

Omitting any mention of the rift over Iraq, King Hussein stressed to Congress that his country had stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States throughout the Cold War.

In what appeared to be a response to Palestinian anger over a passage in Monday's declaration recognizing Jordan's role in maintaining the Muslim Holy sites in Jerusalem, the king said that sovereignty over these sites lies "with God alone."

He also said that the final status of East Jerusalem, which Israel claims as part of its undivided capital, would be negotiated by the Palestinians and Israelis.

The peace process will resume in early August when Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher resumes his shuttle diplomacy aimed at a breakthrough between Israel and Syria.

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