DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia — Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson barnstormed across three Persian Gulf countries Thursday, squeezing a three-day schedule into a single day so he could fly back to Chicago for the funeral of a political ally.
The candidate's campaign-style journey through the heart of a region beset by tensions because of the Persian Gulf war between Iran and Iraq produced scenes of incongruity.
One came at Thanksgiving Day services at a small church in Kuwait, where Jackson sprinkled his sermon and prayers with repeated references to Harold Washington--puzzling many members of the congregation who had never heard of the Chicago mayor who died Wednesday.
"God got a lot of mileage out of Harold Washington," Jackson, a Baptist minister, told about 300 worshipers at the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait, many of whom were Americans who said they had lived overseas for years. "Perhaps the lesson of his life story is that he was born so low in the ghetto, and died at the desk of mayor of one of the world's great cities."
And, addressing God in prayer, the candidate said: "Your decision is irreversible and non-negotiable. You have given us Harold for 65 years, and now you have given us his memory."
Worshipers Seem Annoyed
Some of the worshipers appeared annoyed that Jackson would use a church service for political gain. One woman noted with dismay afterward that television crews continued to tromp through the sanctuary before, during and after Jackson spoke.
"If he was going to hold a press conference, why did he do it in church?" she said. Another woman, Darlene Abouelgubein, an American married to a Palestinian, said of Jackson's church appearance: "It will help his campaign--I'm sure that's why he is here."
Before church, Jackson had met with two Kuwaiti officials, Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Rashid Abdulaziz Rashid and the oil minister, Sheik Ali al Khalifa al Sabah, and after the church service he went to a reception sponsored by a Kuwaiti business group. The liberal candidate who had previously sharply criticized the Reagan Administration's Middle East and Persian Gulf policies sounded surprisingly conservative.
Referring to U.S. Navy escorts for Kuwaiti oil tankers, Jackson said "if the gulf is not free, the whole world is held hostage . . . so our position is quite clear--that no one has the right to block the flow of people and traffic in the gulf."
Uses Administration's Words
Then, using some of the same words White House and Pentagon officials have used to defend President Reagan's policies, the candidate added: "If they do so, they must do so at their own peril and risk and face the consequences. We have the right to expect that the gulf ought to remain free."
From Kuwait, Jackson flew to Bahrain, where a U.S. Navy facility handles supplies for American vessels on escort duty in the Persian Gulf.
With him was June Guglielmi, a Rhode Island schoolteacher whose son, John, serves on one of those ships and whose elementary school students had collected hundreds of pounds of Christmas gifts, cards and candy for him and his fellow sailors.
Jackson had wanted to help the mother deliver the gifts to the sailors, but her son's ship was not in port, embassy officials said. Jackson's campaign had arranged for the gifts to be sent to Bahrain by commercial airlines, but an embassy spokesman said: "We've never seen them--they're not here."
So Jackson met instead with the U.S. Ambassador Sam H. Zakhem and the Bahraini foreign minister, Sheik Mohammed ibn Mubarak al Khalifa.
Afterward, he explained why he was cutting short his planned six-day trip to the Middle East and Africa.
"We lost Harold. We cannot lose faith. I must go back home," Jackson said. "When a king falls, and there is no prince or princess, there is some measure of chaos."
Meets U.S. Businessmen
From Bahrain, it was on to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and a dinner at a swank hotel with several hundred members of an American businessmen's group.
Then, late on Thanksgiving Day, Jackson flew to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where officials gathered at the airport to meet at midnight with the candidate.