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Albright received mixed signals from the Arabs outside of the Palestine


LONDON, (Sep. 15/1997) IPS - Throughout her tour of the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, has received mixed signals from the Arabs outside of the Palestinian Territories. 

Whereas the foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) did some plain speaking during their meeting with her, and dwelt on their differences with her policies, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan praised her for giving a new push to the stalled regional peace process.  

The reason for the divergence between the stands taken by the Gulf states and Egypt and Jordan lie with economics. The Gulf monarchies, rich in oil and natural gas, are affluent and provide commodities which the U.S. badly needs, whereas the Egyptian and Jordanian regimes are dependent on U.S. handouts. 

King Hussein outdid himself in praising the U.S. when he heartily thanked Albright for taking a personal interest in the Middle East peace process. He went on to lambaste the international media for belittling what she had achieved during her talks in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. 

In showering praise on Albright, King Hussein surpassed even Albright's own sentiments regarding her diplomatic accomplishment, an agreement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to send delegations to meet in Washington later this month. 

Whereas Albright described her achievement as "a small step" towards reviving the stalemated Oslo peace process, instead of "the larger steps" she had hoped for before her trip, King Hussein was lavish in his admiration for Albright and her performance. 

The Jordanian monarch seemed to have his own agenda. This became obvious when at the joint press conference Albright said that she would urge the U.S. Congress to sanction grant the aid to Jordan being recommended by her department. Last year the U.S. legislators, who control the purse-strings, curtailed the sum proposed by the State Department for Jordan. 

As a long-time ally of Washington -- with a brief interregnum during the 1990-91 Iraqi-Kuwait crisis -- King Hussein, the ruler of Jordan since 1952, is well aware of how the U.S. political system works. 

He is equally aware that the current U.S. Congress is even more pro-Israel than the Bill Clinton White House. So if he wants to continue to receive the U.S. largesse for his country, with an annual per capita gross domestic product of just $1,215, he cannot afford the luxury of speaking up for the Palestinians to the U.S. policy makers. 

Though Hosni Mubarak does not have as long a track record of the leadership of Egypt, or of an alliance with Washington, his country, with an annual per capita gross domestic product of a paltry $730, is even more economically dependent on America than Jordan. 

Little wonder that after his talks with Albright in Cairo, he said that he had become "unexpectedly" optimistic about the chances of peace in the region. Following his first meeting in Cairo with Netanyahu after the latter was elected prime minister of Israle in June 1996, Mubarak uttered just about the same words. 

In short, both Mubarak and Hussein are keen to show themselves to be diehard peaceniks and praise Washington for its efforts, given the slightest chance, in order to remain in the good graces of the uncritically pro-Israel U.S. Congress. 

Such a consideration does not figure in the calculation of the foreign policy makers in the oil-rich Gulf states. 

In any event, in this region Albright focused on the Fourth Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Economic Summit, to be held in Doha, Qatar, in two months time. A byproduct of the multilateral track of the Middle East Peace Conference held in Madrid, Spain, in October 1991, this economic gathering includes the Arab states, Israel, the European Union, and North America. 

Since Israel has to be one of the invitees, this summit is best held in an Arab country which has economic relations with Israel already or is on the verge of doing so. The first summit was held in Morocco in 1994, and the next two in Jordan and Egypt. The forthcoming conference is scheduled for November in Qatar, which until recently was engaged in forging a contract with Israel for the supply of gas through an U.S. multinational, Enron. 

Unhappy at Netanyahu's reneging on the implementation of the September 1995 Oslo II Accord with the Palestinians, and his authorization to build a large Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced in June that they would boycott the MENA summit in Doha. 

During her meetings first with King Fahd ibn Abdul Aziz, also attended by Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz, in Jeddah, and then with GCC foreign ministers in the Saudi town of Abha, 400 kilometers south of Jeddah, Albright tried to get Saudi Arabia and the UAE to reverse their decision on the MENA conference. She failed. 

All Albright got from the Saudi and UAE officials was the statement that they needed to see a serious change of policy by Netanyahu towards making peace with the Palestinians before they reconsidered their stance on the MENA summit. 

Furthermore, GCC foreign ministers reportedly told Albright that Washington's dual containment policy towards both Iran and Iraq was "unrealistic." As it happened, the foreign minister of Qatar arrived in Abha after a visit to Tehran to meet newly installed Iranian President Muhammad Khatami. 

The fact that Qatar had earlier resisted pressures from Riyadh to refuse to host the MENA summit meant that Albright could not accuse it of "being soft on Iran." But at the same time Qatar is also one of the three Gulf states which have publicly called for the lifting of the economic sanctions against Iraq. 

Hardly a stance likely to appeal to Albright who played a key role in getting the United Nations Security Council to maintain the economic embargo against Baghdad when she was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the first Clinton administration, from early 1993 to early 1997. 

Though tiny Qatar, possessing the third largest gas reserves in the world, is by far the most independent in its foreign policy, it and its colleagues in the Gulf Cooperation Council are conscious that in December Iran will host the summit of the 54-member Islamic Conference Organization, the official pan-Islamic institution of inter-governmental cooperation, and will be its nominal head until the next summit, in 2000. This was an additional incentive to the GCC members to engage in a frank discussion with the U.S. Secretary of State. 

In sum, the age-old adage that "money talks" applies as much to societies as to individuals. As does the complimentary adage, "Beggars can't be choosers."


Inter Press Service



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