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THE U.S. REACTS TO THE TERRORISTS

2 minute read
Bruce W. Nelan

THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION earnestly wanted to provide aid and comfort to an Israel reeling from the blows of terrorist bombers but wasn’t certain how to do it. The first response was practical: U.S. officials stopped fussing about who was going to pay for $15 million worth of sophisticated explosives-detection devices the Israelis were interested in and shipped seven of them off on an Air Force plane. The bomb finders were followed to Israel by a team of American counterterrorism specialists, who will offer expertise and try to persuade the Israeli and Palestinian security forces–once sworn enemies–to cooperate.

For Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Middle East peace is a high-stakes effort, and after the fourth bombing, there was no question in Christopher’s mind that U.S. policy was at a critical point. “This was the most risky derailment we have had,” he told TIME. “My first reaction was what a sense of trauma it must be for the Israeli people and for Peres. You can try to deal with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, which for the Israeli people was so much harder than most people realize because it was a Jew killing a Jew. Then there was the terrorist incident the prior weekend. I knew that with another one, they would cross an emotional line.”

Christopher suggested a summit meeting on terrorism to Clinton. Shimon Peres liked the idea, and so did Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Clinton decided to go ahead. He and Mubarak jointly invited Peres, the P.L.O.’s Yasser Arafat, Jordan’s King Hussein, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and European and regional leaders to a conference this week at Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Christopher also telephoned Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara. “I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the Syrians attend,” he said.

The summit will be more symbolic than substantive, but it is not simply posturing. The demonstration that Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and other Arab powers are joining Israel and the U.S. in the commitment to peace will isolate Hamas and other extremists. “In the Middle East,” Christopher said, “if things aren’t moving forward, they tend to be moving backward. That’s why I want to minimize the period of being off track.”

–By Bruce W. Nelan. Reported by Dean Fischer/Washington

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