Employing straight-talking diplomacy, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged wealthy Arab countries Sunday to deny financial aid to Islamic militants waging a war of terror against Israel.
She also made a pitch for women in Arab societies, telling foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and five other Arab states that they should put the issue high on their agenda.
Nearing the end of her first trip to the Middle East as secretary of state, Albright made no claims of a breakthrough in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. But she has set up some preliminary talks in Washington and New York later in the month that could pay off eventually.
One set of talks will involve Israeli and Palestinian diplomats; the other, Israelis and Syrians.
“Small steps are better than no steps,” she said at a news conference here after meeting with Jordan’s King Hussein.
She said she hopes the talks will “re-energize the peace process and dig us out of this crisis of confidence.”
The king praised her efforts. “There is something fresh in the air. There is something new in the air,” he said. “Someone who speaks the truth, not diplomatically, but accurately.”
“There seems to be willingness on both sides, but there is a gap where Israel would like to start and where Syria would like to start,” Albright said in a speech to some 1,000 American, British and French troops at a Saudi air base from which jets patrol the skies over southern Iraq.
“You are the teeth that keep him in line,” Albright said of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. “When tested, you bite.”
It was a fast-paced day in searing heat, beginning in Jiddah, the Saudi Red Sea port; moving on to Abha, a resort in the Saudi mountains near the Yemen border where six Persian Gulf foreign ministers met; to the Prince Sultan air base; and then to Jordan for the meeting with King Hussein.
With a short trip to strife-beset Lebanon still possible, Albright is due to fly home to Washington today. She will leave behind a stern warning that she will not come back just to “tread water,” but only if Arab and Israeli leaders make hard decisions on peacemaking.
Albright’s appeal to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to deny funds to Hamas and other militant Islamic groups was aimed at contributions raised in those countries.
“The Arab states have a responsibility, which you also have recognized, to support the peace process and work against the enemies of peace,” Albright said, “to do your utmost to ensure that no assistance of any kind reaches the practitioners of extremist violence, such as Hamas.”
The speech to the foreign ministers gathered at Abha was coupled with an appeal for help from the Palestinian Authority. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Saudi Arabia immediately pledged $10 million to Yasser Arafat’s group.
“It is our belief these governments do not support Hamas with official funds,” Rubin said. But the Clinton administration would like to dry up fund raising and improve intelligence exchanges with the Arab governments.