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Arab Criticism Mounts on U.S. Iran Move

November 16, 1986|MICHAEL ROSS | Times Staff Writer

CAIRO — Bitter criticism of Washington mounted in the Arab world Saturday in the wake of President Reagan's admission that he had authorized the covert transfer of "small amounts" of defensive arms to Iran in an effort to improve relations with that country and help secure the release of the American hostages in Lebanon.

While diplomats and other sources have portrayed moderate, pro-American Arab states in the area as shocked and outraged by the weapons transfers, most Arab governments had withheld public comment until Reagan himself confirmed the deals in a televised address Thursday night.

Contradicting Own Policy

Iraq, which is locked in a bloody six-year-old war with Iran--a war that many analysts say it may be losing--accused Washington of playing a "dirty game" by secretly violating its own official policy of not supplying arms to Iran.

An Iraqi government spokesman, quoted by Baghdad radio, said, "This contradiction between words and deeds is a cause of deep sorrow and casts a dark shadow on the policies of a great power."

The spokesman pointed to Israel's role in helping to arrange the transfers as evidence of "a dirty game in which Zionism played an active role for dubious transactions that would prolong the war and continue Iranian aggression against Iraq."

Israel Especially Criticized

The Israeli connection in the U.S.-Iranian arms deals has become a particular focus of concern and criticism in the Arab world. Despite Israel's denials, many Arab governments believe that it has been supplying Iran with arms for some time for the purpose of increasing division and instability in the Arab world by prolonging the Persian Gulf conflict.

After the way in which the United States has handled a number of sensitive issues--ranging from support for the Israeli raid on the Tunis headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the recent disinformation campaign against Libya--the U.S.-Israeli role in supplying Iran with arms has reinforced the conviction among Washington's Arab allies that the Reagan Administration is anti-Arab, analysts said.

This view was also voiced Saturday by the Jordanian newspaper Al Dustor, which called the secret U.S.-Iranian negotiations a "serious encroachment . . . on Arab-American relations that already had lacked trust and credibility before this scandal."

In Cairo, the semi-official Egyptian newspaper Al Gomhouria said in an editorial that "Reagan's admission deprives Washington of credibility in undertaking any role, in the (Persian) Gulf war or in the Middle East in general."

Egyptian-Israeli Ties

Indeed, diplomats and other analysts said the Israeli connection is likely to prove especially embarrassing to Egypt, which is both Washington's closest ally in the Arab world and the only Arab country to have made peace with Israel. They said they expect it to also add to strains in Egypt's relations with Israel.

In the gulf, newspaper editorials and commentaries accused the Reagan Administration of hypocrisy in its dealings with the Arabs. "The powerful President of the mighty United States, who used to lecture and reprimand the whole world for being soft on terror, has confessed to actually bowing and bending and flattering a party he scorned in public," a Kuwait Times editorial said.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a newspaper editor told the Associated Press that there was "very strong dismay and anger in Saudi official circles" over Reagan's arms-transfer admissions.

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