WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (JTA) — During her recent visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave a not-so-subtle-hint: Buy American or risk losing American aid.
Albright issued the warning because Israel’s national airline, El Al, plans to buy European-made planes and engines. In the past, it has bought planes only from Boeing, an American company.
Albright’s criticism came soon after Congress approved Israel’s nearly $3 billion in annual aid and an additional $1.2 billion to implement the Wye agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
With the talks between Israel and Syria resuming, Israel has made clear that it will need U.S. aid to implement a possible withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
In October, El Al announced that it intended to buy seven new planes — three from Seattle-based Boeing and four from Airbus, which is jointly owned by French, German and British companies.
The day before Albright arrived in the region for her scheduled talks last week, Israeli Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai delayed a final decision on El Al’s Airbus order, saying the purchase should be reviewed and not made “in haste.”
The airline did sign an agreement to buy the three Boeing 777 aircraft worth $400 million, but is considering equipping them with the European- owned Rolls-Royce jet engines. Israel Radio reported that Albright urged Israel to press El Al to buy the engines from American companies, either General Electric or Pratt & Whitney of United Technologies Corp.
Albright lobbied Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, urging Israel to buy the additional planes from the Seattle-based Boeing.
“She had a discussion with Foreign Minister Levy on the question of the Boeing buys, and she talked about basically the importance for American jobs of buying from an American company,” Dennis Ross, the U.S. special Middle East coordinator, told reporters last week.
Ross also said she raised the issue of U.S. aid, saying that “she talked about what congressional responses or attitudes might be in a circumstance where an American company that was making a competitive bid was not being responded to.”
Asked if Israel was concerned that Albright linked El Al purchases to U.S. aid, an Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, said, “We take everything that the secretary says to us with great seriousness.”
The official added that Albright’s effort to look out for American companies was not unusual.
“It’s legitimate in global diplomacy for nations to seek to advance, through their diplomats, their economic interests,” the official said.