April 13, 2000
The China Gambit
Barak came to talk Mideast peace, but China sales raised U.S. tension
Despite friction over Israeli sales of military technology to China, President Clinton had a "good, productive, serious discussion" with Israeli Prime Minister Barak this week.
Clinton said he feels encouraged that there is renewed energy in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"We've solved everything," Clinton announced jokingly at the end of a nearly four-hour Tuesday session with Barak that also dealt with the planned Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and stalled peace talks with Syria.
Barak offered a "variety of ideas" about how to move the Palestinian talks forward that Clinton will discuss with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat at a meeting next week, a senior administration official said.
While the meeting focused on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, another hot topic was Israel's sales of weapons systems to China, including the Phalcon early warning radar system.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen recently pressed Barak to cancel plans to sell the systems. Cohen said publicly that it was "counterproductive" to the region, especially with escalating tensions between China and Taiwan.
Senators have written a letter to Barak expressing concern over the deal with China, according to the Israeli media.
There is speculation that Barak may have used this trip to practice some damage control from the U.S. opposition to the sale.
Barak called Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to discuss several issues, including the sale.
Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, has said he would block $250 million in foreign aid to Israel if it goes ahead with the sale to China.
Contrary to prior media reports, which implied that U.S. opposition to the deal was new, a spokesman for the Defense Department said the United States has consistently voiced its opposition to the sale since 1996.
However, an Israeli official said that although some concern was raised by the United States during the early stages of the deal, the level of opposition is much higher now. Israel told the United States about the sale at the outset, though it was not required to because no U.S. technology was involved.
Israel's deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, said Wednesday that Israel would honor its contract to deliver technology to China, despite pressure from the United States, but would "take account'' of American sensitivity with regard to additional deliveries.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrived in Israel on Wednesday for a six-day visit.
The meeting was the first opportunity that Clinton and Barak have had to meet face to face since the Shepherdstown, W.Va., negotiations. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also met with Barak earlier on Tuesday.