Powell defuses U.S.-Israel flap
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's comments warning the United States not to "appease" Arabs created a flap at the White House on Friday, but U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell quickly smoothed over the situation, saying U.S.-Israeli relations remain strong.
Powell spoke twice by phone with Sharon during the course of the day. In the conversations, the prime minister expressed his appreciation for the United States and its relationship with Israel.
"Israel has no better friend than the United States. They know that, we know that," Powell said. "From time to time, we will have these little cloudbursts, but they don't affect the strength of our relationship. I've had good discussions with Prime Minister Sharon, and I look forward to more such discussions."
Sharon's office said the prime minister expressed his appreciation for the "deep friendship and the special relations" between the United States and Israel, and asked Powell to forward his "appreciation" to President Bush of his decision to fight terrorism.
"Israel is a country that suffers from terror since its establishment, and it is the duty of the government of Israel to defend its citizens and to prevent any and all forms of terror attacks against innocent populations," Sharon's office said.
On Thursday, Sharon compared current events to Western acquiescence in 1938 to Nazi Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia and said, "I call on the Western democracies and primarily the leader of the free world, the United States: Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when enlightened European democracies decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a convenient temporary solution."
"Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense," he said. "This is unacceptable to us. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism."
"We can only count on ourselves," Sharon said. "From now on, we will count only on ourselves."
At a news conference Friday, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said "the president believes that these remarks are unacceptable," and said the administration's reaction had been relayed to the Israeli Embassy, the National Security Council and the State Department.
"President Bush is an especially close friend of Israel," Fleischer added. "The United States has been working for months to press the parties to end the violence and return to a political dialogue."
The U.S. efforts to bring about a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians was complicated by its plan to build a broad-based international coalition to fight terrorism in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Included in that coalition are a number of Arab and Islamic countries.
In what could be an effort to secure Arab support, Bush said Tuesday that a Palestinian state was always "part of a vision" if Israel's right to exist is respected.
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