The American Jewish Committee this weekend became the first jewish group to pay an official visit to Kuwait, said David Harris, AJCommittee’s executive director.
Harris and Jason Isaacson, AJCommittee’s director of international affairs, met with Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah who expressed Kuwait’s support for the Middle East peace process and its wish that international sanctions against neighboring Iraq remain in place.
“They don’t want to see a withering of the international consensus against Iraq,” said Harris in an interview from Jerusalem. The Kuwaitis’ top three foreign policies concerns are “Iraq, Iraq, Iraq,” he said.
Harris said the Kuwaiti visit built upon a meeting in New York two months ago between the organization and al-Sabah, and other meetings in the United States prior to that with other Kuwaiti leaders. “We were not starting form ground zero,” said Harris.
“We are an organization that had strongly supported the American response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990,” and had credibility in Kuwaiti eyes by “recognizing a central issue in Kuwaiti history – Iraqi aggression.”
During the meeting with al-Sabah, he said, “we made it clear a very important part of our mission was to make a small contribution to the peace process and help develop Israel’s bilateral relations with countries in the region.” Kuwait has no relations with Israel.
For his part, al-Sabah “made clear Kuwait’s support for the peace process and his desire for it to succeed.”
Harris said the Iraqi aggression and the Israeli policy of restraint during the Gulf War “convulsed old Kuwaiti thinking” and led Kuwaitis “to understand rather clearly that Israel is not the enemy.”
At the same time, said Harris, the foreign minister made it clear his country “feels an obligation to Syria” for its support for the allied forces against Iraq in the Gulf War and “is not likely to get ahead of the pace” of the Israeli-Syrian negotiating track.
He said al-Sabah told them that he was planning a trip to Damascus and he “hoped to use the occasion to help with Syria.”
Harris noted that Kuwait was the first country to repudiate publicly the secondary and tertiary boycotts of Israel and has strongly condemned Hamas attacks against Israel.
An AJCommittee delegation had earlier met with top leaders in Bulgaria and Greece and afterward visited Tunisia and Israel in a group led by AJCommittee President Robert Rifkind.
Harris described as “very substantive” a lengthy meeting between the group and Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia. He said it focused on the peace process, Tunisia-Israel bilateral relations, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, developments in neighboring Libya and Algeria, and U.S.-Tunisia relations.
Formal low-level diplomatic relations had been anticipated about a year ago between Israel and Tunisia but have yet to materialize. “They [the Tunisians] are keenly aware it’s a matter of importance to the United States and to Israel and that it ought to be a matter of importance to them to move forward,” Harris said.