Indyk confirmation raises embassy issue

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WASHINGTON — Pro-ponents of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem are looking for support from one of the Clinton administration's most steadfast opponents of such an act.

If two senators get their way, Martin Indyk, currently the U.S. ambassador to Israel, will face sharp questions on the issue at his confirmation hearing to become the head of the State Department's Middle East shop.

A 1995 law requires that the United States begin planning now to move its embassy in Israel by 1999.

But at the urging of Indyk and others, President Clinton has postponed any action until the Palestinians and Israelis agree on the status of Jerusalem in peace talks.

To satisfy the law's requirement that the State Department begin planning a move, officials have sent reports to Congress that say real estate agents could secure a temporary embassy site on short notice.

Delaying tactics like this prompted Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) to urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make the embassy move a central issue at Indyk's confirmation hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for the early fall.

"We believe it is critical for his nomination that Martin Indyk state for the record his support for and intent to implement the law," Kyl and Lieberman wrote to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) earlier this month.

Helms serves as the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

"Unfortunately, not only has the State Department failed to implement the law, but at every legislative opportunity, its representatives have sought to stonewall further progress toward recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," the senators wrote.

The State Department will have another opportunity to change its Jerusalem policy when Congress returns from its recess.

Four provisions aimed at strengthening Israel's claims to the city are included in the State Department authorization bill, which allows for foreign policy spending. When the House and Senate meet to combine their versions in early September, the State Department plans to argue against the provisions, according to a State Department official and congressional aides.

Among the provisions are a measure that would allow U.S. citizens to have birth certificates stamped "Jerusalem, Israel" instead of "Jerusalem," as they currently are. Other provisions would bring the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem under the supervision of the embassy and list it as a mission to Israel rather than Jerusalem.