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British Foreign Secretary Abandons Tour to Arab States Following Row with Saudi Arabia

January 7, 1983
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British Foreign Secretary Francis Pym has abandoned his tour of Arab Gul states following the refusal of Saudi Arabia to receive him. He was to have left for the region tomorrow.

The cancellation has triggered off a major political row in Britain, with the opposition Labor Party accusing the government of “apathy and incompetence

The Foreign Office was still trying until Tuesday night to salvage Pym’s tour by rescheduling his visits to Qatar, Oman and the Union of Arab Emirates. But today it announced that the whole tour had been postponed.

At the root of these developments is the Arab League’s insistence on including PLO spokesman Farouk Kaddoumi in a delegation formed to explain the decision of the Fez Arab summit.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had made it clear she was not prepared to meet Kaddoumi and was also insisting on a blanket condemnation of terrorism by the delegation. But the Arabs had rejected both conditions.

Pym was at pains yesterday to deny that the tour was being cancelled because his other Arab hosts had closed their doors to him. He also said the incident would cause no lasting damage to Britain’s interests and that there was no question of the Arabs imposing economic sanction against her.

But Denis Healy, Labor’s shadow Foreign Secretary, said the damage to Anglo-Arab relations would “very lasting” and he accused the government, especially Mrs. Thatcher, of “unparalleled incompetence on irresolution”.

Accusing it of reversing its position on the PLO, Healy recalled that Mrs. Thatcher herself has signed the 1980 Venice declaration of European leaders allot the PLO a role in Mideast peace talks and that a Fore Office Minister had already met Kaddoumi officially. Healy accused Mrs. Thatcher of over-ruling the Foreign Office and acting like “a back seat driver.”

For its part, Labor would agree to a ministerial meeting with the PLO. “You often get nationalist movements using terrorism,” Healy added. The present British Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, had met representatives of the political wing of the IRA and previous governments had held contacts with the late Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus at a time when he was supporting terrorism.


Meanwhile, Mrs. Thatcher has given her personal blessing to a delegation of Conservative members of Parliament due to visit Israel next Sunday. In a warmly phrased letter to Michael Fidler, director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, the Prime Minister said “the people of Britain and Israel remain bound by a common commitment to democracy and freedom.

“We in Britain and all our partners in the European community remain committed to a fundamental principle of Israeli policy — Israeli policy–the security of the State of Israel. Our resolve to uphold that principle will not weaken, nor will our belief that real security must come from a just and lasting peace.

“As one of the founder members of the Conservative Friends of Israel, let me say that I am delighted you are making this visit. I look forward to hearing how it went.”

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