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Arens Says U.s.-israeli Relations Going Through ‘a Period of Tension’

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Israel is “going through a period of tension in our relations with the United States at this time,” Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said Thursday morning.

Voicing concern, Arens told Israel Radio that “there is no doubt” that ties between the two nations are strained, particularly over the role the United States has taken in a U.N. Security Council resolution that would censure the settlement of Soviet Jews in the administered territories and East Jerusalem.

This “is not the first time, and I suppose not the last” there will be tension between the two countries, he said.

Arens made clear that Israel feels it is experiencing greater difficulties with the Bush administration than with its predecessor on the issue of Jewish settlement in the territories.

“This administration is more exercised by the issue than the previous administration,” Arens said.

He summoned U.S. Ambassador William Brown to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, to protest the U.S. role in helping draft what the ministry called an “attack on the right of Jews to immigrate to Israel.” They talked for an hour.

A government spokesman said Arens told Brown that American activities in the Security Council were “efforts to coordinate Washington’s position with those of Arab states.”

COORDINATING WITH HARD-LINE COUNTRY

He accused the United States of coordinating its efforts with, among others, the Republic of South Yemen, a country often described as hardline, with a reputation for involvement in terrorism.

According to the spokesman, Arens said it was “intolerable 50 years after the Holocaust that there should be a desire to prevent Jews from returning to their homeland.”

In Washington, the State Department characterized Arens’ comments as “a little confusing” and maintained that the United States wholeheartedly supports Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel. But U.S. criticism of potential Jewish settlement of the territories was part of the official message.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said, “We want the immigration to take place and will oppose efforts by anyone to block it.”

The United States, she said, backs the “absorption of these immigrants into Israel. We have and we will continue to press for steps that facilitate and expedite that immigration, such as direct flights.”

However, she said, “we draw a distinction between absorption of Soviet Jews into Israel and their movement to the territories. The government of Israel is well aware of our concern that Soviet Jews not be encouraged to move into the territories.”

She said Arens “knows very well what our policy is.”

A final vote on the Security Council resolu- tion was indefinitely postponed Wednesday, but the draft could be reintroduced at any time.

Tutwiler would not say how the United States would vote on the resolution until it saw a final text.

In his radio interview, Arens dismissed the idea that the tension between the two nations was aggravated by Israel’s failure so far to respond to U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s proposal to engage in a dialogue with Palestinian representatives.

The United States knows it must wait for a new government to be constituted in Israel, “before there can be contacts with us on the diplomatic issue,” the foreign minister said.

Asked how U.S.-Israeli relations might be affected if a narrow hard-line government is formed, which would include parties opposed to the peace process, Arens’ response was that the basis of the relationship between the countries remained sound and firm.

Tutwiler of the State Department seconded this and commented on the differences.

“Our bilateral relationship is very, very strong. As with any strong friendship, there are differences of opinion on certain issues, but these can and should be managed in a mutually satisfactory fashion.”

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this article.)

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