U.S. Praises Israel for the Way It is Handling Crisis in the Gulf

The United States has no complaints with Israel’s handling so far of the crisis in the Persian Gulf, a State Department official said Monday.

In fact, President Bush sent Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir a warmly worded letter last week, thanking him for Israel’s supportive stance in the crisis.

Israel Television said Bush’s letter, which was a reply to an earlier letter from Shamir, contained strong reassurances of U.S. determination to honor and preserve its commitment to Israel’s security.

The Bush administration also conveyed its appreciation of Israel’s conduct in a meeting here last week between Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arad and John Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.

Barukh Binah, deputy spokesman at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, who is in Washington this week, said Kelly, who had just returned from a meeting in Syria with President Hafez Assad, called in Arad to “bring Israel up to date with the talks that America has with various Middle Eastern countries.”

An Israeli official familiar with the meeting said Kelly “expressed satisfaction” with the “quiet but powerful, low profile” Israel has maintained during the crisis.

The official said Israel agrees with the U.S. logic that it should stay on the sidelines because of the danger of upsetting “American interests” at a time when much of the Arab world has lined up in opposition to Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait.

FEW KIND WORDS FOR IRAQ

According to the Israeli official, Kelly praised Israel for recent statements supporting “the continuation of King Hussein’s rule’ in Jordan, including one by Defense Minister Moshe Arens. In addition, Kelly commended the Jewish state for its threat to Iraq that any invasion of Jordan would “cross a red line” for Israel, the official said.

The U.S. official termed the meeting “amicable.”

Bush, meanwhile, had few kind words for Iraq on Monday, accusing President Saddam Hussein of violating Islamic teaching by holding foreigners as “hostages.”

“You are going against the age-old Arab tradition of showing kindness and hospitality to visitors,” Bush scolded the Arab nation in an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The president also said the Iraqis are “going against their religion” by holding foreigners captive.

“My message is, release all foreigners now, give them the right to come and go as they wish,” Bush told the VFW’s annual convention in Baltimore.

“We’ve been reluctant to use the term ‘hostage,’ but when Saddam Hussein specifically offers to trade the freedom of those citizens of many nations he holds against their will in return for concessions, there can be little doubt that whatever these innocent people are called, they are in fact hostages,” he said.

On Sunday, one of Iraq’s few Arab supporters in the crisis, the Palestine Liberation Organization, came under fire as well, from a senior State Department official.

Robert Kimmitt, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat is “clearly on the wrong side of this issue.” He was referring to the PLO vote earlier this month, at an Arab League meeting in Cairo, not to condemn the Iraqi invasion.

MEETING WITH LEVY STILL ON

“The PLO right now is clearly on the wrong side of the terrorism issue,” Kimmitt said.

That reference was to the U.S. demand that the PLO adequately punish Abul Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Front and a member of the PLO executive committee, for his group’s failed terrorist attack on Israeli beaches May 30.

Kimmitt, appearing on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” added that Secretary of State James Baker is “looking forward” to meeting Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy here Sept. 6 or 7.

An Israeli official said there has been no indication that Baker is planning to suspend that meeting again, which was postponed once because of Levy’s health problems and once because of the Iraqi invasion.

In Tel Aviv, meanwhile, Defense Minister Moshe Arens told members of the United Jewish Appeal’s “Prime Minister’s Mission” on Monday that he hoped the Persian Gulf crisis would make it easier for Israel to explain to Americans the difficulties and dangers it faces in this region.

Arens recalled that when he was ambassador to Washington, he would often say “the Middle East is not the Midwest.” He hoped this would become clearer now in the American Midwest, Arens told the top American Jewish contributors who arrived in Israel on a chartered plane.

(JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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