State Dept. Puzzled over Israel’s Reaction to U.S. Aid Policy

The State Department maintained today that it was “puzzled” that Israel could see the Reagan Administration’s opposition to increased aid for Israel as a change of U.S. policy. “Frankly, in light of the Presidents proposed aid level to Israel, we are puzzled that Israel could call into question U.S. good faith over this issue,” the Department’s deputy spokesman Alan Romberg said.

The Israeli Cabinet said yesterday that it was astonished by the Administration’s actions in seeking to convince the Senate Appropriations Committee last week not to add $125 million in economic aid and $350 million in military assistance to the $2.5 billion the Administration has recommended for Israel in the current fiscal year which began October 1. The Appropriations Committee adopted the extra aid as port of the total foreign aid package of $11.5 billion which was approved by voice vote.

TRIES TO EXPLAIN U.S. POSITION

Romberg repeated some of the assertions he had made last Friday in which he maintained that the $1.7 billion in military aid and $785 million in economic aid recommended by President Reagan was proof that “the Administration has no higher priority than meeting Israel’s needs.” He noted that the amount proposed for Israel is 28 percent of the U.S. security assistance budget.

He added that the additional money proposed for Israel “comes at a time when other U.S. friends are desperately in need of U.S. assistance to help deal with ongoing military conflicts. The add-ons to Israel would make it more difficult to address those needs,” Romberg said.

In his remarks last Friday, which came after the Senate committee acted late Thursday, Romberg noted that “any increase could imperil the strenuous effort we are making to find a settlement in Lebanon and to make progress in the broader peace process.”

Those were the points reportedly stressed by U.S. special Middle East envoy Philip Habib in his telephone calls to committee members urging them not to vote for the additional $475 million for Israel. Romberg would only confirm that Habib had telephoned Senators. He would not say what the envoy said to them.

CONFIRMS RETURN OF HABIB, DRAPER

However, Romberg did confirm that Habib and the other U.S. special envoy in the Middle East, Morris Draper, would be returning to Washington, probably this week, to confer with President Reagan. He said that Habib, who is in Morocco today and whose mission is not only the Lebanon negotiations but the President’s entire Mideast peace initiative, had completed his “preliminary discussions” and it is felt it would be “useful” for him to report to the President.

Romberg said that while Habib’s report would cover the entire Middle East situation, it would concentrate in particular on Lebanon “so that these very important negotiations can be advanced as quickly as possible.”

Although Habib was originally due back in Washington this week, his return along with Draper, who is in Beirut today, is viewed as a sign that the U.S. cannot achieve its goal of withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon by the end of the year. Romberg had no comment on reports that the Administration was blaming Israel for this delay.

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