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Netanyahu, Christopher Discuss Future of Peace in Middle East

By Edward Cody
The Washington Post
JERUSALEM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Warren Christopher Tuesday for the first time as Israel's new leader.

Netanyahu's reiteration of his tough approach to the Arab world, at a news conference with Christopher standing poker-faced at his side, seemed designed to emphasize to Israelis that his campaign commitments to put security first will not be watered down to please the United States or facilitate its Middle East diplomacy.

That impression also was encouraged by a statement from Netanyahu's office Tuesday declaring that the U.S. secretary of state came at Washington's request, not Israel's. Moreover, the new chairman of the Israeli legislature's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Uzi Landau, said Monday that Christopher should have waited another couple of weeks to give the Likud government time to decide its policies.

The Clinton administration all but openly endorsed the Labor Party's Shimon Peres in Israel's election for prime minister May 29.

Although no one here has forgotten that, Netanyahu has gone out of his way -- and did again Tuesday -- to call U.S. ties a pillar of Israel's foreign policy under his government.

Christopher, reporting on three hours of talks with Netanyahu, said he traveled to the Israeli capital to renew the Clinton administration's commitment to those ties, to express U.S. willingness to continue helping in peace talks with the Arabs and to prepare for the first talks between Netanyahu and President Clinton, scheduled for July 9 in Washington. Avoiding substance, Christopher did little more than voice agreement with what Netanyahu said and express satisfaction that the new government wants to continue negotiations.

"The prime minister made it clear to me, as he's just said, that he's interested in "peace with security,' " Christopher told reporters at one point in the news conference, repeating one of Netanyahu's campaign slogans.

Despite Christopher's lawyerly effort to skirt points of contention, Netanyahu stood firm on several points that, if maintained in negotiations, would differ markedly from what the United States has been promoting in the Middle East for the last several years.

His aides have raised the possibility of talks with Lebanon on water rights.