Gingrich claims Dole would recall U.S. envoy to Syria

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SAN DIEGO — A Dole administration would recall the U.S. ambassador to Syria and launch a covert operation to seize two Libyans suspected of planting a bomb on Pan Am flight 103, according to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Whether fanciful campaign rhetoric or intended policy goals, Gingrich laid out the GOP's plans before Republican Jews to try to woo Jewish votes, which have traditionally gone to Democratic candidates.

Gingrich spoke before a cheering crowd of Republican Jews gathered at the National Jewish Coalition's "Road to Victory" celebration in San Diego Aug. 15, only moments before the Republican National Convention began its final session.

Focusing mainly on foreign policy, Gingrich sought to draw a contrast between the Clinton administration and how Bob Dole, the Republican nominee, would run the White House.

"We should say to Syria that there will be no ambassador," Gingrich said. "Instead we'll send a charge d'affaires" until Damascus stops its support of terrorist groups.

Several Palestinian and Islamic terrorist groups maintain offices in Damascus and Syria remains on the U.S. State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism.

"We do not need Syria," he declared to shouts of "Newt, Newt, Newt" that filled the room where some 250 Jewish activists and convention delegates had gathered for a belated 88th birthday celebration for Max Fisher, the veteran Jewish communal leader from Detroit who heads Dole's finance committee.

Gingrich said the GOP will seek to convince American voters, Jews in particular, that the United States "must develop a missile defense system" along the lines of former President Reagan's "Star Wars" anti-missile program.

Gingrich said he fears that a rogue state, seeking to influence Israeli policies, might attempt to blackmail the United States with unconventional weapons in the not too distant future.

Without a sophisticated missile defense system, said Gingrich, the United States would be forced to choose between its own security and that of Israel.

"This country will not risk Detroit for Tel Aviv, Chicago for Jerusalem or New York for Haifa," he said.

Clinton has opposed a "Star Wars" type system, arguing that it would be obsolete before it could be deployed.

Gingrich reserved some of his most focused wrath for Libya, which has refused to turn over two suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

"If we can find the two terrorists we should send a team in and extract them," he said.

But if intelligence information cannot pinpoint their location, the United States should announce to Libya, "In 10 days we have the right to bomb any facility that we think they may be in."

In one slip of the tongue that caused some nervous laughs in the Westgate Hotel's posh ballroom, Gingrich, who has drawn the ire of much of the organized Jewish community over his immigrant policies, extended his threats to the "Sudanese government harboring refugees." After a slight pause he corrected himself, "uh, terrorists."

On domestic issues, Gingrich revealed little specific strategy to court the Jewish vote.

But on the Religious Equality Amendment, which the organized Jewish community opposes, Gingrich confirmed after his speech that he plans to bring the measure to the House floor for a vote in September.

The House leader maintained that the measure poses no threat to religious minorities.

"This is no threat to Jews. This is about religious equality, not school prayer," said Gingrich, predicting that the measure would not bring a return of prayer to America's classrooms.

However, other sponsors of the measure as well as activists on both sides of the issue say the measure would allow the return of school prayer.

The Washington, D.C.-based NJC distributed copies of its platform which explicitly opposes school prayer.

At a reception earlier in the week, Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), who is Jewish, said he hopes Congress can find "better things to do with its time" than debate school prayer when members return from the August recess next month.

With only about 17 legislative days remaining in the 104th Congress, Gilman said "there should be a concerted effort to take up serious measures."