- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2000

Heartburn over iftar

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright believes she reached out to American Muslims by hosting a symbolic dinner during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The American Muslim Council (AMC), one of the invited groups at the Dec. 21 "iftar" dinner, praised Mrs. Albright's efforts to make State Department bureaucrats more aware of Islamic sensitivities.
However, her efforts to mollify Muslims also angered an activist American Jewish group that accused her of coddling apologists for Islamic extremists, especially the Palestinian terrorists, Hamas.
"It is astonishing that Secretary Albright would meet with, and thereby legitimize, an extremist organization that praises Hamas, which is on the State Department's own list of terrorist groups," said Zionist Organization of America President Morton A. Klein.
"Those who praise Hamas should be considered persona non grata by the United States government. The Clinton administration's embrace of Muslim extremists who praise terrorist groups and call for the destruction of America is nothing less than immoral."
The ZOA, in a statement, included quotes from AMC officials and from the group's newsletter, The AMC Report called Hamas "freedom fighters" and condemned government attempts to stop fund raising for Hamas in the United States.
The AMC insists it opposes all forms of terrorism.
"The AMC … has consistently condemned terrorism and other acts of violent political and military aggression in all its forms, both here and abroad," AMC official Abdurahman Alamoudi wrote in a letter to The Washington Times last year.
At the State Department, officials privately dismiss ZOA criticism, calling the New York-based group "extremist."
"Our view is clear on Hamas. It is a foreign terrorist organization," one official said.
As for Mrs. Albright's dinner, the official noted that the Muslim Council was only one of several American Islamic groups invited.
"We believe it is important to reach out to Americans of all faiths and beliefs," the official said.
The iftar the Arabic name for the dinners held to break the daily fasts during Ramadan was held at the State Department as American Muslims were complaining that Washington was insensitive to Islam.
The AMC had complained about a department warning that appeared to link a terrorist threat with Ramadan.
Council director Aly R. Abuzaakouk, in a letter to Mrs. Albright, wrote, "For American Muslims, as for Muslims the world over, Ramadan is a time of spiritual renewal, the most sacred month of the year.
"Terrorism has no place in Islam or any religion and anyone, of any faith, who seeks to justify attacks on civilians in the name of religion should be universally condemned."
At the dinner Mrs. Albright told him his views "are being heard."

Taiwan's blunder

Taiwan's unofficial ambassador to the United States believes his government made a mistake when it called for equal diplomatic relations with China.
Stephen Chen, head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, told Taiwan's China Times newspaper that President Lee Teng-hui damaged relations with Washington when he called for state-to-state relations with Beijing.
China, which still claims sovereignty over Taiwan, was angered by Mr. Lee's statement, calling it a move toward independence.
Mr. Chen also said Washington opposed Vice President Lien Chan's recent suggestion that Taiwan develop long-range ballistic missiles, the newspaper reported.

New at religious panel

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has named four new top staff members.
They are Lawrence J. Goodrich, former writer with the Christian Science Monitor, as communications director; T. Jeremy Gunn, formerly with the U.S. Institute of Peace, as research director; Christy Hines, former aide to Republican Rep. William M. Thomas of California, as government relations director; and Tracy Shycoff as administrative director. She held a similar position most recently with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets.

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