Albright's rhetoric fails to overcome Arab feelings of betrayal

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The Independent Online
Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, went straight to the point - unwittingly - when she addressed the largely boycotted Arab- Israeli economic conference in Qatar yesterday.

"Saddam Hussein has lied, delayed, obstructed and tried to deceive," she told delegations from Israel and from just six Arab states. But that is exactly how the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon and other absentees would have described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's adherence to the Middle East "peace process".

Mrs Albright, who truncated her visit to Qatar for a vain mission to persuade the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Bahrainis to join America's latest crusade against Saddam, also lectured the Arabs on their refusal to talk to the Israelis in Qatar: "The effort to increase regional economic co-operation is not, as some people seem to feel, a favour to any particular nation." The Arabs disagree. They see Mrs Albright as fronting Israel's own policies in the Middle East, and America as acting as Israel's spokesman in the region.

The irony is both deep and wounding for Washington. President Bill Clinton wants to talk tough and threaten Saddam Hussein for breaking international rules - compliance with UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction - while refusing to talk tough to an Israeli leader who is refusing to withdraw his troops from occupied Arab land - compliance with UN Security Council resolution 242 - and is refusing the Palestinians a state and a capital in Jerusalem. As the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahrar put it on Saturday, Saddam Hussein's timing is brilliant: "It makes it hard for any Arab nation to ally itself to Washington."

For once, it seems, Saddam has acted with great shrewdness, challenging Washington at the very moment when the Arabs feel deeply betrayed by the US over the destruction of the Arab-Israeli "peace process". Even Kuwait, which owes its liberation from Saddam to America, has condemned the idea of military action against Iraq. Many Kuwaitis are related to Iraqi families, and, while children die in Iraq, of poor food or lack of medical attention, the Arabs are told that further punishment must be inflicted to bring down a dictator whose power was originally augmented by US and European weapons. If President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker could once hold together an Arab alliance against Iraq, this heritage has been squandered by Mr Clinton's weakness in the face of Mr Netanyahu.

Not since 1967 has Washington's stock fallen so low in the Arab world.