- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

More Berger criticism

National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger is getting more criticism for calling violence in the Middle East a "blessing" because, he said, it brings pressure for Arab-Israeli peace talks.

Sixteen members of Congress this week urged President Clinton to reprimand Mr. Berger for his remarks in a May 21 speech at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Several American Jewish groups have called for his resignation.

Mr. Berger has repeatedly said his remarks were misinterpreted because he also condemned violence in the speech.

"Mr. Berger's remarks have raised the ire of many supporters of Israel, especially during these delicate times in the peace process," the House members said in a letter Monday to Mr. Clinton.

The letter was signed by 15 Republicans and one Democrat, Robert E. Andrews of New Jersey.

"Mr. Berger made his remarks on a day when Palestinians were carrying out a wave of violent assaults on innocent Israelis, including an attack in which a 2-year-old Israeli child was severely burned in Jericho," the letter said.

"How can the inflicting of such pain, possibly be construed as a 'blessing'? … Characterizing such violence as a 'blessing' wrongly gives terrorists and other who advocate violent methods to revolving disputes the impression that the United States sympathizes with their action."

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs last month called for Mr. Berger's resignation. B'nai B'rith has written a letter to Mr. Berger expressing its concern.

The Jewish War Veterans and the National Council for Young Israel, which represents hundreds of synagogues, also are upset over Mr. Berger's remarks and are considering making public comments.

"The Jewish people have suffered too much violence in this century and throughout our history to stand idly by while a government official suggests that violence against Jews can in any way be interpreted as a 'blessing,' " ZOA President Morton A. Klein said in a statement.

In his speech, Mr. Berger said, "It is the consequence of proximity, the physical interconnection between Israelis and Palestinians that in the absence of a fundamental resolution of their conflict is bound to create further friction and further violence.

"Paradoxically, however, this is both the curse and the blessing of the Israeli-Arab conflict. For the tragedy that awaits in the event of non-action also constitutes the greatest incentive for immediate action."

New Guatemala

Ariel Rivera Irias is a new ambassador for a new Guatemala.

In presenting his diplomatic credentials to President Clinton this week, he discussed the changes in his country since President Alfonso Portillo Cabrera took office after what the United States called a free and fair election.

He said Mr. Portillo, who won 68 percent of the vote in the November election, is "firm and ineludible" in his commitment to the 1996 peace accords that ended 36 years of civil war.

Mr. Rivera said his government's goal is to "establish the solid foundations for a true national reconciliation."

The ambassador also told Mr. Clinton that Guatemala values its relationship with the United States and hopes to expand the North American Free Trade Act to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

"Such relations are transcendental for my country in the context of globalization," he said.

Earlier this month, Mr. Rivera received a letter from 49 members of Congress, praising Mr. Portillo's progress in restoring human rights to Guatemala.

The congressional letter also cited Mr. Portillo's moves to bring the security service under civilian control.

"The message constitutes a clear indicator of the international community's assessment of the measures taken toward governance," he said.

Mr. Rivera is a career diplomat who has served as minister in the departments of foreign affairs, finance and the economy.

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