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Jackson's Peace Mission

[[image - photograph of Jessie Jackson at podium, people standing in background including President Ronald Reagan]]
Rev. Jesse Jackson explains peace mission as Lt. Robert Goodman and President Reagan look on.

In a bold diplomatic move, Rev. Jesse Jackson, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, went to Syria this past December and succeeded in securing the release of captured American pilot Lt. Robert Goodman, Jr. Despite President Reagan's criticism that Jackson's visit to the Middle Eastern country would be "counterproductive," the 42-year-old civil rights leader decided not to stray from his mission. Reagan, who refused to answer Jackson's phone calls, stressed that Jackson was not representing the United States when he met with Syrian President Hafez al Assad and other government officials.

Jackson says that he made the trip for humanitarian reasons, and that his intent was to "break the cycle of pain."

The Reagan Administration changed its tune once the mission was heralded a success. A crowd of reporters, supporters and family members were on hand for the homecoming for Goodman, who was given a hero's welcome when he returned to American soil. At the White House, Reagan praised Jackson for his "personal mission of mercy." Jackson's trip may spur the Reagan Administration to initiate talks with the Syrians and end military involvement in Lebanon. 

Jackson used the diplomatic coup to press the White House to aggressively pursue peace in the area. He asserts that the Palestinians and the Israelis both have "a role in the Middle East."

Political Pundits and party leaders believe that the mission will raise his political stock as the Democratic contenders get immersed in the primary. Since the beginning of the campaign, political observers questioned Jackson's experience in foreign affairs, although he has often been in the international arena. 

When President Carter held a "domestic summit" at Camp David, he was one of the leaders summoned. 

Jackson undertook the private mission after he noticed that special Middle East convoy Donald Rumsfeld had not raised the issue of the fate of Lt. Goodman during a special meeting in Syria. The Virginia Beach fighter pilot's A-6 jet was shot down during a Dec. 4 raid of Syrian bases in Lebanon. White House aides say they didn't want Goodman's release used as a "bargaining chip" in talks with Syrian officials. 

Goodman, a soft-spoken 27-year-old navigator bombardier, said that he had been beaten by the Syrians and that his treatment mirrored "the classic Vietnam POW type experience." But he said that his conditions changed after he met with a Red Cross representative. 

Even though the mission received a cool reaction from the White House, Marilyn Goodman, mother of the captured flier, said she knew the trip "could only help and not hurt" the chances for her son's release. 

In addition to being accompanied on the trip by two of his sons and by campaign aids, Jackson also traveled with others, including Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam and Rev. Wyatt T. Walker of New York's Canaan Baptist Church. 

- David Ruffin 

BLACK ENTERPRISE / MARCH 1984

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