- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NO DRAMA

The Saudi ambassador this week rejected a call for a “dramatic gesture” from Saudi Arabia toward Israel in his response to a letter from 220 members of Congress.

Ambassador Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir insisted that an “incremental approach” or “temporary confidence-building measures or gestures will not work.” He explained that the Saudi government supports comprehensive negotiations that will begin, not end, with what are sometimes called “final status” issues, such as Israel’s borders, its control over Jerusalem and the resettlement of Palestinian refugees.

Mr. al-Jubeir complained that past bilateral negotiations, such as those between Israel and Egypt in the 1970s and Israel and Jordan in the 1990s, failed to control the spread of settlers into Arab lands.

He noted that when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat reached an agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979, Israeli settlers numbered about 5,000. By 2007 when President Bush convened peace talks in Annapolis, the settlers had increased to about 200,000.

“It is our firm view that resolution of this conflict does require outlining the final settlement at the outset, followed by prompt resumption of negotiations on all final-status issues — borders, Jerusalem, water, security and refugees — with a deadline set for their early conclusion,” the ambassador said.

He added that “it is also absolutely imperative for the United States to play an active and robust role” in future negotiations.

Mr. al-Jubeir on Sunday released the text of his letter responding to a July letter from Congress, organized by two senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, and Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican, said Congress has been “disappointed” with Saudi Arabia’s reaction to President Obama’s address in the Muslim world, in which called on “Arab states to live up to their responsibility and recognize Israeli legitimacy.”

“We have been disappointed thus far to see the public reaction of your government to President Obama’s request,” they said in the congressional letter. “Rather than expressing willingness to break down barriers between Arabs and Israelis, your foreign minister asserted that Saudi Arabia could not take any step toward normalization before the return of all Arab land.

“We urge you to assert a strong leadership role and help lead the Middle East to a new era of peace and reconciliation by stepping forward with a dramatic gesture toward Israel akin to steps take earlier by the leaders of Egypt and Jordan.”

CATS AND DOGS

The U.S. ambassador to Kuwait apparently forgot one of the first rules of diplomacy — think twice before saying nothing — when she referred to male members of the Kuwaiti parliament as “dogs,” which is an insult in Arab nations.

Ambassador Deborah K. Jones, a career foreign service officer, apparently meant the remark as a joke, but her words sparked fury among some Kuwaiti lawmakers who demanded she be officially denounced or expelled.

Mrs. Jones last month was speaking in Washington before the Middle East Institute, when she noted that four members of the parliament are women.

“I have often teased my Kuwaiti colleagues because many of them refer to [the female legislators] as the four cats, and I say, ‘Does that mean the remaining one are dogs in parliament?’ I don’t know,” she said.

While Mrs. Jones faced calls for her expulsion in Kuwait, she also garnered support from the powerful speaker of the parliament, Jassem al-Khorafi.

“People have misunderstood the comments,” he told reporters in Kuwait City on Sunday. “Some people misinterpreted her words. It’s not her fault. We should blame those who misunderstood her joke.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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