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A Bitter King Hussein Calls U.S. Iran Action 'Insult to All Arabs'

November 23, 1986|MICHAEL ROSS | Times Staff Writer

CAIRO — King Hussein of Jordan, breaking his public silence on the supply of U.S. arms to Iran, said in remarks published Saturday that the Reagan Administration's secret dealings with Iran are "incomprehensible" and an "insult to all Arabs."

Reflecting what appears to be a growing frustration with U.S. policy toward the Arab world, the king spoke in bitter terms about the Reagan Administration's secret dealings with Iran in an interview with Egyptian newspaper reporters published to coincide with his arrival in Cairo on Saturday for two days of talks with President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptian officials said the monarch's brief visit came within the framework of the general series of meetings and consultations held periodically between Hussein and Mubarak and was not tied specifically to the revelations about U.S. arms sales to Iran, which have shocked and angered the Arab world.

High on the Agenda

However, the officials said the arms supplies and their impact on the Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq would be high on the two leaders' agenda. Both Egypt and Jordan support Iraq in the six-year-old war.

King Hussein himself set the tone for the visit in his remarks to Egyptian reporters on the eve of his departure from Amman, the Jordanian capital.

"The American position (toward Iran) comes as a shock and a big disappointment," Hussein said. "It is an insult to all Arabs."

Although the official Arab press has bitterly denounced the covert supply of U.S. arms to Iran, Arab leaders have been somewhat slower in issuing open condemnations--in part because they have been waiting for clarifications and explanations from Washington. Over the past several days, U.S. envoys have been delivering messages to key U.S. allies in the region from President Reagan, who has sought to explain the arms shipments.

Do Not Signal Change

The messages have tried to assure Arab leaders that the supplies sent to Iran were not meant to tip the balance of the war against Iraq and do not signal a change in either the Administration's professed neutrality in the gulf war or its policy of making no concessions to states, like Iran, that support terrorism. The Administration has argued that its main objective was to improve relations with the fundamentalist Muslim regime in Tehran.

However, Jordanian Prime Minister Zaid Rifai indicated earlier this week that Jordan was dissatisfied with these explanations--a sentiment echoed more strongly by Hussein, who called them "incomprehensible."

The Arab ire in this case also reflects what a number of senior Egyptian and Jordanian officials have characterized as a general exasperation among moderate Arab states with the Reagan Administration, which increasingly is being viewed here as anti-Arab and failing to understand the complex issues of the Middle East.

Hussein appeared to reflect this sentiment, telling the Egyptian journalists that the Administration's dealings with Iran are part of a general trend of "indifference . . . and defiance" toward the Arabs.

Hussein, who considers himself a key U.S. ally in the region, is said by officials to be especially frustrated by Washington's reluctance to become more actively involved in Middle East peace efforts.

"The king fears two things above all others--the threat to the region's stability posed by the spread of Islamic fundamentalism from Iran and the threat to his own kingdom if the Israelis, in the process of annexing the West Bank, force the Palestinians across the (Jordan) river into Jordan," one analyst said.

"In both cases now, the king thinks the U.S. has let him down," the analyst added.

Sensitive Negotiations

Egypt's President Mubarak, whose nearly bankrupt government is in the middle of sensitive negotiations with Washington over the refinancing of $4.5 billion in back military debt, has not commented publicly yet on the Iran arms issue. But he is described by sources close to his office as being deeply upset.

The Egyptian press has been allowed to express more candor, however, and the semiofficial Al Ahram newspaper said in an editorial Friday that the Reagan Administration's decision to supply arms to Iran was an "accursed deal" and a "flagrant mistake" in American foreign policy. The editorial, signed by Al Ahram's editor in chief, Ibrahim Nafeh, was widely regarded as expressing the government's official view.

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