Barak asks Congress to slow embassy more

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WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak explicitly has asked members of Congress to stop trying to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"We do not want to give the Palestinians any pretext for delaying the peace talks or postponing them," Barak told Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) Wednesday of last week in Jerusalem, according to sources who were briefed on the meeting.

The lawmakers are part of a parade of more than two dozen members of Congress scheduled to visit Israel during the August congressional recess.

Barak specifically asked the lawmakers to wait at least six months before taking up any new initiatives on the embassy.

A nearly unanimous House and Senate passed a law in 1995 requiring the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem by May of this year. Citing national security interests and the Israeli-Palestinian agreements to negotiate the final status of Jerusalem, Clinton postponed the move.

Angry at the delay, members of Congress have introduced legislation and drafted letters seeking to force the embassy move.

At last week's meeting with Jewish lawmakers, Barak asked them to postpone "ill-timed" initiatives, including measures aimed at strengthening Israel's control over Jerusalem, according to participants in the meeting.

"He asked us not to get out in front of him and to let him have the opportunity to bring peace to the Middle East," one participant said. While Barak did not specifically ask that resolutions not be introduced, he did ask members to consider whether resolutions would be counterproductive to his search for peace.

Barak carried a similar message to members of Congress during a July visit to the United States.

But now that many members of Congress have continued to push the issue, Barak went one step further, asking them to hold their fire on what has been a bread-and-butter issue for lawmakers seeking American Jewish support.

He's getting support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has lobbied aggressively on the issue for years.

Barak's move to stop congressional initiatives on Jerusalem could slow the rush of candidates who have staked out positions on the issue in recent weeks.

Two weeks ago, Republican front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Sen. Bill Bradley, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, both expressed support for moving the embassy. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has launched an all-but-announced Senate bid from New York, has also endorsed the move.