WASHINGTON (Sep. 18)
Both the State Department and the Israel Embassy today sought to play down the confrontation between Israel Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs Harold Saunders over United States and Israeli policies.
The confrontation, which took place at the Israel Embassy Saturday night where a reception was held with some newsmen present, was characterized by an Israeli spokesman as ” nothing much” and the two “spoke in quiet tones.”
State Department spokesman Hodding Carter was asked today whether the Israeli bombardment of Palestinian terrorist bases in south Lebanon, the Cabinet decision to allow Israelis to purchase land in the administered territories, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the U.S. aid program constitute a rising level of tension that was symbolized by the exchange between Saunders and Weizman.
“Such sharpish exchanges at 11:30 o’clock at night with good friends, we don’t consider to be the final determinant of our standing as friends, ” Carter replied. “We remain close and friendly. We have differences as we have always had differences. We continue to work on those differences. The differences in no way interfere with the ultimate stability of our relationship or the depth of it.”
Carter said he would not deal with the details of the exchange or the “varied reports” about it. But he acknowledged that “in general the thrust of the article I have seen is relatively accurate.”
EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT
According to an eye witness to the confrontation who took notes, the confrontation was initiated by Saunders who complained to Weizman that the U.S. gives billions of dollars in aid to Israel but when he was in the Middle East he was not informed about the Egyptian-Israeli move to establish joint Egyptian-Israeli patrols in the Sinai in place of the United Nations Emergency Force.
When Sounders suggested that the failure he spoke of did not constitute friendship, Weizman replied, “You are talking of friendship. You are making us to appear as villains in southern Lebanon.” Weizman also wanted to know, “Where were you when the children were being killed in Maalot?”
Saunders said that “all you know is bombing,” and added, “That is not our kind of policy.” Weizman wondered what U.S. policy is and Saunders said that “you are making the same mistake that the U.S. mode in going into Vietnam.”
Weizman replied that “if there will be another Katyusha (Soviet rocket) or something else that will hurt us we will act severely.” When Sounders said, “You will continue bombing,” Weizman replied: “I did not say bombing. I want to remind you we went into Lebanon and stayed there several weeks until we accomplished what we had to do.”
Weizman reportedly also told Sounders that the U.S. was not being Israel’s friend by assailing Israeli air strikes against terrorist bases in south Lebanon.
Saunders then charged that Israel was using too much military force in Lebanon. Weizman responded, “Don’t lecture us on what to do.” He then referred to the U.S. display of weakness and vacillation in foreign affairs, noting the position toward Cuba, which led the non-aligned nations meeting in Havana in condemning the U.S. and again equating Zionism with racism. Saunders reportedly responded, “At least we are not bombing there.”