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Watt Says He ‘made a Mistake’ in Sending a Letter to Arens

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Secretary of Interior James Watt told leaders of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith that he had “made a mistake” in sending a letter to Ambassador Moshe Arens of Israel stating that “If the liberals of the Jewish community join with other liberals of this nation to oppose these efforts, they will weaken our ability to be a good friend of Israel.”

At his meeting here last evening, Awatt was reported to have expressed his apologies and admitted that the American Jewish community had “every right to be upset.” He complained to the ADL leaders that he seeks support for his energy policies from every segment of American society and that he had no intention of singling out the Jewish community.

ADL national chairman Kenneth Bialkin, who said the meeting with Watt had been arranged weeks ago, prior to the disclosure of the June 17 letter to Arens, said the Interior Secretary’s remarks were made “with great sincerity and in good faith, and we consider the incident closed.”Watt was scheduled to meet with American Jewish Committee leaders in Washington this afternoon.

In the immediate aftermath of the disclosure of the letter late last week, Watt insisted that the letter “does not threaten anyone” and that he stood by it because “its intentions were right and it was properly worded.” But Jewish leaders and major political figures reacted angrily and many demanded his resignation.

REAGAN DEFENDS WATT

During a nationally televised news conference in Washington last night, President Reagan was asked if Watt should be fired, as Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D. NY) has suggested. The President answered that Watt “shouldn’t be fired.”

He explained that “What he (Watt) was suggesting with regard to the danger to Israel, was our vulnerability as long as we are dependent on oil, energy, from insecure sources. And if there should be, as we once had, an embargo, and if we should find ourselves without the energy needed to turn the wheels in this country and the wheels in industry, we wouldn’t be much of on ally to our friends, and that would certainly include Israel. And he was making it very plain that we are morally obligated to the support of Israel.”

This was at variance with an earlier reaction from the White House disavowing the letter. Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes said “The main quarrel we have with it (the letter) is it does not represent Administration policy …. It is not the President’s viewpoint.”

WATT’S LETTER TO CONGRESSMEN DEFENDED

In addition to his letter to Arens, Watt sent a letter to 28 Congressmen last week criticizing them for attacking his off-shore drilling proposals at a time when “Israel was embroiled in a war concerning her own survival and a liberated Lebanon.” He warned that “the world’s political leadership will secure with economic strength or military force the needed energy.”

Watt’s letter concluded that justifying off-shore oil wells is easier than explaining “to the mothers and fathers of this land why their sons are fighting on the sands of the Middle East as might be required if the policies of our critics were to be pursued.” Asked about this letter, which was denounced by a number of Congressmen, Reagan told the news conference that “what he (Watt) was pointing out is where would the Western world be if someday our source of supply were purely there in the Persian Gulf and it was denied to us. So this was his dramatic statement” about the situation.

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