Washington (Jun. 17)
State Department officials stressed today that neither the Reagan Administration’s “condemnation” of Israel nor its suspension of the delivery of four F-16 planes implies “judgement” on whether Israel violated its arms agreement with the United States when it used American-made weapons to destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor June 7.
But Walter Stoessel, Jr., Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said the United States believes that Israel did not “exhaust all the diplomatic options” before the raid. He also said that the U.S. did not share Israel’s belief that Iraq was on the verge of building nuclear weapons, although the U.S. was concerned about the Iraqi nuclear program and understood Israel’s concern.
Stoessel and several other senior State Department officials testified before a joint meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East and the Subcommittee on International Security and Scientific Affairs.
The hearing was held following Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s letter to Congress last week that “A substantial violation” of the 1952 Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with Israel “may have occurred.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to begin holding hearings on the matter tomorrow.
Rep. Clement Zablocki (D. Wis.), chairman of the House Committee, said it was “essential” that the “true and complete facts be established.” But Zablocki indicated the House may not make a determination on whether Israel violated the agreement. Stoessel could not say when the State Department’s review of the matter would be finished. He also said that it would be “premature” to indicate when the suspension of delivery of the planes would be litted.
DAMAGE TO PEACE
In his testimony, Stoessel noted that the U.S. had condemned Israel after the Iraq attack and that Washington “cannot but be dismayed by the damage which has been done to the search for peace in the Middle East” by the Israeli action. He particularly noted that the raid had especially embarrassed President An-war Sadat of Egypt and “cast a shadow” over the efforts of special envoy Philip Habib to bring a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Middle East.
At the same time, Stoessel said that the U.S. understood Israel’s concern over Iraq, which has never recognized Israel and is still technically at war with it. He said Iraq “has not played a constructive role in the Middle East peace process.” He also conceded that Iraq is considered a nation that aids terrorism.
But he rejected a contention by Rep. William Broomfield (R. Mich.) that Iraq has used “blackmail” to get France and Italy to help it build its nuclear plant. While Stoessel refused to go into details, he argued that the U.S. has voiced concern about the Iraqi nuclear plans with France and Italy, and said that the Israeli action had prevented the U.S. diplomatic efforts from succeeding.
Rep. Stephen Solarz (D. NY) said he was “amazed and appalled” at Stoessel’s refusal to say that Iraq was planning to build a nuclear weapon. He asked if the U.S. thought Iraq was intending “to replace oil as a source of energy?” But Ronald Stiers, director of the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, also said that U.S. intelligence estimates did not believe Iraq was capable of building a nuclear bomb.
Rep. Tom Lantos (D. Calif.) charged there was a “double standard being used against Israel since no one condemned Iran when it unsuccessfully bombed the same Iraqi nuclear plant last September. Nicholas Veliotes, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, said that the attack came during the war between Iran and Iraq and the U.S. and others had expressed concern over the war and not just one particular incident.
Rep. David Brown (D. Miss.) said that a recently completed Congressional research study rejected Israel’s contention that it had to bomb the nuclear plant because if it waited until the plant was operational, or “hot” it would have caused large numbers of deaths in Baghdad. He said the study found that a bomb dropped on an operational plant would not have endangered any more people.
Brown later told reporters that he and most members of the committee were friendly toward Israel but thought it should have waited until it had exhausted diplomatic efforts and not acted in a way which endangered the peace process.
Rep. Paul Findley (R. III.) said the U.S. was “a silent partner in the attack,” He said if the U.S. had spoken to Israel about the use of American-made weapons in Lebanon, as he had urged the attack on Iraq would never have occurred.
Stoessel stressed that “the United States was not consulted in any way on any phase of this action. Nor were we informed in advance,” he said.