- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The White House sent mixed signals to Congress this week about its vow to punish Israel for activities viewed as undermining the Middle East peace process, several lawmakers say.

“The problem with this administration is that it doesn’t have a very clear voice,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat. “I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Mr. Biden was referring to the administration’s promise this week to withhold loan guarantees to Israel in retaliation for several actions taken against Palestinians.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and one of the staunchest White House supporters in Washington, said the administration had no intention of withholding any of the loan guarantees.

“They’re not doing that,” Mr. Delay said. “They’re not doing it.”

Mr. Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he is particularly concerned that the fuzzy message could reach foreign leaders.

“You never know if you’re a foreign leader exactly what the deal is because they’re so split among themselves,” he said.

Numerous Republicans and Democrats in Congress yesterday declined to comment on the issue, saying they hadn’t seen the administration’s proposal for foreign aid to Israel.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, said he hadn’t been aware of the renewed threat to withhold aid to Israel, but was “surprised it is coming back up.”

Mr. Chafee said, however, that he would be open to any proposal from the president. “I assume that’s a last-course measure,” he said, adding that he hoped “that diplomacy would come first.”

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday that the United States and Israel were discussing how much money Washington planned to deduct from the loan guarantees.

Mr. Ereli said the United States expected to issue guarantees with respect to $1.6 billion worth of bonds to be issued by the Israeli government.

But, he added, the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2003 stipulates that these loan guarantees “may only support activities in the geographic areas which were subject to the administration of the government of Israel prior to June 5, 1967.”

“A reduction will be made in accordance with this legislation,” Mr. Ereli told reporters.

“The precise amount is still being determined, but will be an estimate based on a range of Israeli government expenses associated with the settlement activity.”

He said the United States and Israel were discussing the guarantees, and that based on the outcome of those discussions, “we’ll come up with an amount.”

Sharon Behn contributed to this report.

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