Russian Firms Get Sanctions
Jewish groups welcomed last week’s imposition of sanctions on three Russian companies accused of supplying military technology to Syria, but expressed concern about the impact of the worsening U.S.-Russian relationship on Jews in the former Soviet Union and on the Middle East peace process.
The sanctions decision set off alarm bells in Jerusalem, where officials fear that their recent diplomatic efforts to press Russia on the proliferation question could be compromised by the new U.S. action.
The administration action touched off an angry blast from the foreign ministry in Moscow, which described the move as “illegal from the point of view of the international law,” and warned that it represented one more blow to relations strained by differences over the NATO campaign against Serbia.
Jewish groups generally welcomed the move — the first time officials here have imposed sanctions based on dealings with Syria.
“My feeling is that the United States is trying to find a credible approach to the problem of proliferation,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
But other observers warned that sinking U.S.-Russian relations will reduce this country’s leverage in the battle against the new epidemic of Russian anti-Semitism.
“Historically, U.S. leverage on issues like anti-Semitism is greatest when the relationship is good. When relations cool, it declines,” said Robert O. Freedman, president of Baltimore Hebrew University. “And relations are definitely cooling.”
Last week’s sanctions decision “confirm the rumors we’ve heard for a long time about major arms deals between Russian and Syria,” he said. “This is one more effort by [Prime Minister Yevgeny] Primakov to reintroduce the Russians into the Middle East.”
Mark N. Katz, an expert in U.S.-Russian relations at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., agreed that the Primakov factor is troubling. He cited recent reports that Primakov, an old Mideast hand with close ties to Saddam Hussein, received an $800,000 payment from the Iraqi government in 1997.
Katz warned that sanctions alone will not be enough to slow Russia’s dealings with countries such as Iraq, Iran and Syria.
“The Clinton people keep saying we have to treat them gently or we lose leverage,” he said. “But we never seem to get what we want, anyway. We need to talk more openly about more sweeping measures.”
Nightmare Budget Awaits Legislators
Lawmakers come back from their spring recess on Tuesday, and waiting for them will be an explosive budget debate that Jewish leaders fear may result in big cuts to domestic programs and new problems for Israel’s foreign aid.
The first confrontation will come as legislators resume bickering over the administration’s supplemental aid request that includes money for hurricane disaster relief in Central America and a special appropriation for Jordan.
That measure has been loaded down with special appropriations for a number of business interests, increasing the chances of a presidential veto.
And congressional Republicans have insisted that the supplemental money must be “offset” by cuts in already-strapped domestic spending programs. That could be a troubling precedent when Israel’s supplemental aid comes up for review later in the year.
Before they left town, both Houses passed budget resolutions providing a rough blueprint for Fiscal Year 2000 spending. The Republican-crafted proposals are based on the 1997 deficit-reduction agreement, with stringent spending caps that leave little maneuvering room.
At the same time, GOP leaders are insisting on significant tax cuts and increases in military spending. The war in Kosovo will add even more pressure on congressional budgeters.
“Basically we’re in the third year of a five-year deficit-reduction process,” said Reva Price, Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
“Congress backloaded the cuts because nobody wanted to admit up front how difficult the process would be. As a result, this year’s budget is turning into a nightmare.”
Jerusalem Embassy Deadline Approaching — Again
Next week could produce some dramatic news in the fight to force the Clinton administration to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
But activists involved in the controversy say the administration could simply let the issue slide and wait for a court challenge to a measure they claim is unconstitutional, anyway.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 required the administration to move the facility by May 31 of this year.
But it also included a presidential waiver on national security grounds.
According to provisions of the law, 50 percent of the money used to maintain official U.S. embassies abroad may not be spent in fiscal year 1999 if the embassy isn’t moved on time, unless there is a presidential waiver.
Some pro-Israel members of Congress have calculated that the 50 percent threshold for the current fiscal year was reached on April 1, and that Clinton is in default. Some administration officials insist that April 12 is the effective deadline.
Last month Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) floated a proposal for a presidential waiver coupled to some concrete gestures by the administration supporting the embassy move — including moving some diplomatic functions to Jerusalem.
Capitol Hill sources say there are three possibilities for next week.
“The administration may simply ignore the deadline, and take their chances,” said a Senate source, “or they may agree to the Moynihan proposal — which isn’t very likely.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is seeking a third alternative — an official waiver, but couched in terms that come close to the Moynihan compromise, a proposal one staffer termed “Moynihan Light.”
But moderate forces are worried that some hard-line lawmakers — Sen. Jon Kyle (R-Ariz.) is the most likely candidate — will try to force the issue by mid-month.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, is privately urging the pro-Israel hard-liners to cool it for now, according to some reports.