Gore tries to juggle campaigning, official duties in Mideast crisis

Saturday, October 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Al Gore reached out Saturday to the sizable Arab-American community in Michigan's electoral battleground, as he tried to keep one foot on the campaign trail, the other in the middle of top-secret White House efforts to calm the Mideast.

Republican presidential rival George W. Bush invoked the old adage about politics stopping at the water's edge, but he picked at the edges of the Middle East crisis for the vice president's potential vulnerabilities.

Bush took Saturday off at his Texas ranch while Gore, in time to catch his son's high school football game at home in Washington, made a quick campaign hop to Detroit amid fresh bruises in that area's Arab-American community of 300,000.

At a downtown rally livened up by Motown dance tunes, Gore implicitly addressed some concerns that his recent comments on the Middle East were too unconditionally supportive of Israel.

He said it would take ``a lot of prayers'' to help along the peace summit convening Monday with President Clinton in the region.

``As we grieve for those who were affected by the violence there we think not only of the Americans, we think also of the Palestinians and Israelis and the suffering the families on both sides have felt,'' Gore said. ``The scenes have been heart-rending and it is time for us to lift them up in prayers as well.''

Gore had canceled a meeting Friday with Michigan's Arab-American activists to attend a White House national security meeting with Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen.

The high-level huddle was called to address the apparent terrorist bombing of a U.S. Navy warship in Yemen and two weeks of escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

As if to emphasize his role at the heart of such delicate and weighty matters, Gore explained to supporters that the meeting he'd been summoned to was one for the nation's ``principals.''

``This is a time of great tension,'' he told a rally crowd of 2,000 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. ``It is a time when our country's leadership is needed. And, as a nation, we're going to stand together and do everything we can to promote peace and security and the right outcome.''

Gore scrambled to schedule a sort of ``do over'' with Arab-Americans by meeting for 45 minutes Friday evening with three of that community's activists in Washington. Campaign adviser Greg Simon said the trio emphasized to Gore how important it is for the United States ``to maintain its role as an honest broker'' and not choose sides in the Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

Ninety-six people _ two Israeli soldiers, and most of the rest Palestinians _ have been killed in 16 days.

Gore has already shown he sides with Israel, said Terry Ahwal, a member of the Ramallah Federation in suburban Dearborn, Mich., who was to have met with Gore in Detroit.

``His support to Israel I am not questioning. I believe in a secure Israel but is it fair for children to die to keep Israel secure? ... He is hurting himself,'' said Ahwal. ``We do matter, the Arabs, we vote.''

Southeastern Michigan is a key area, and both Bush and Gore are pushing hard for the Arab-Americans who traditionally are swing voters.

A new poll by Marketing Resource Group showed the Michigan race a dead heat, with Bush at 42 percent, Gore at 41 percent and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader getting 4 percent of the vote. The survey had a margin of error of 5 percentage points. Gore had been up by 6 points in the group's late-August poll.

Gore led Bush, 46 percent to 43 percent, in another new Michigan poll by EPIC/MRA that carried a 4-point margin of error.

Campaigning in Michigan on Friday, Bush blamed Gore for the administration's recent decision to tap the nation's strategic oil reserve in an effort to stabilize fuel costs at home.

``Every barrel released today is one less barrel available to protect us against threats to our security _ threats that are becoming more vivid with this week's turmoil and violence in the Middle East,'' the Republican nominee told hundreds of auto workers in Pontiac. ``Vice President Gore called for this release and he should take responsibility for what has occurred.''

Going into next week, Gore is pumping up TV ad spending in Michigan and other must-win states, including Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, Maine and Iowa. The increase, which will bring his next-week ad spending to more than $5 million, was offset by his decision to gut spending in Ohio and Louisiana _ neither on his must-win electoral map.

In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Bush questioned Gore's role in a U.S. agreement on the sale of Russian arms to Iran.

As co-chairman of the U.S.-Russia Binational Commission, Gore put his name to a 1995 agreement negotiated by Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin to allow Russia to fulfill previously arranged arms-sales contracts with Iran and not suffer sanctions under a 1992 law that bans such sales to nations that sponsor terrorism.

Those deliveries were to have been completed by Dec. 31, 1999, but Russia, which promised no new sales contracts, notified U.S. officials last year it was running late on shipping the arms already contracted for.