NEW YORK (Apr. 21)
Kuwait will cease to impose restrictions of the Arab League boycott on American companies bidding for contracts in the reconstruction of Kuwait, according to Thomas Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“Let the U.S. now test that,” Pickering told Jewish leaders here Sunday.
American firms are expected to receive 70 percent of the contracts issued by Kuwait as it starts to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the seven months that his forces occupied the country.
Kuwait, historically one of the strictest enforcers of the Arab League boycott against Israel, has been requiring that companies seeking contracts state that the firm is not owned by Jews, that no Jew sits on its board of directors, and that no Jew is a manager or employee.
Kuwait has also been boycotting U.S. companies that do business with Israel.
Pickering, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1985-88, broke the news of a change in that position at a meeting of the Israel Task Force of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
“This is as close to an official announcement as I’ve seen,” said Martin Raffel, director of the NJCRAC Israel Task Force.
While many meeting participants received the news enthusiastically, others were more cautious.
“The issue is what we will do to enforce the principle of free trade,” said Michael Miller, executive director of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, a NJCRAC constituent.
Jewish groups, with the support of many members of Congress, have argued that Kuwait’s boycott policies, which are illegal in this country, are no longer acceptable since the United States and its allies rescued the country from Iraqi aggression.
GOODWILL GESTURES URGED
Since 1977, it has been illegal for American companies to supply information to Arab countries in compliance with the economic boycott of Israel.
Ninety out of 100 U.S. senators recently signed a letter addressed to the emir of Kuwait requesting that he lift the secondary boycott of firms that do business with Israel.
The letter did not ask Kuwait to end its direct economic boycott of the Jewish state, though current resolutions in both houses of Congress demanding Arab recognition of Israel list that as a requirement.
Pickering also called for goodwill gestures by both Israel and the Arab states to be considered a third track in the peace process.
That third track would be in addition to the two that the U.S. administration already considers imperative: direct negotiations between Israel and the Arab states, and between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We would like to see recognition of Israel, an end to the Arab boycott and an end to the Zionism-equals-racism resolution,” Pickering said, referring to the 1975 U.N. General Assembly vote denigrating Zionism.
“Israel should not be an island state, with relations with everybody except her neighbors,” the ambassador said.