January 16, 2002
Arab nations cooperation "excellent" in terrorism war says
By TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON -- Key Arab nations are continuing to demonstrate ""excellent'' cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Redondo Beach, said Tuesday.
Even Syria, which is on the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism, is starting to cooperate, Harman said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. She and other members of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security are wrapping up a weeklong trip to the Middle East.
Harman had harsher words for another Mideast leader: Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Based on intelligence briefings the lawmakers have received, Harman said it is a ""logical inference'' that Arafat knew of a recently intercepted arms shipment that has set back efforts to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Harman and three other members of the subcommittee journeyed to Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Israel to assess their degree of cooperation with the U.S. war on terrorism and the state of the peace process. Numerous congressional delegations have poured into the region since the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
""The level of cooperation with U.S. intelligence services has been excellent. These countries are key to winning the war on terrorism,'' Harman said.
However, she noted that Syria remains on the State Department's terrorism list for its support of Hezbollah, a Lebanese guerrilla group. Syria also has ties to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two other militant groups.
Syrian intelligence officials are reportedly sharing information about tracking militants with their Western counterparts. Secretary of State Colin Powell said last month that Syria and Iran have ""shown some openness to cooperation that may present opportunities that we are trying to explore carefully.''
Harman acknowledged that it was more difficult for the lawmakers to assess popular opinion of the United States in the Arab nations they visited. None is a democracy.
""Bottom line, we haven't gone inside the mosques. So we don't see what's going on there. But we have seen a lot of friendly people in every country, including Syria,'' she said.
The lawmakers were scheduled to meet with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday evening. The peace process is in tatters, and Harman said the seizure of 50 tons of arms that Israel says was bound for Palestinian-controlled areas of the Gaza Strip was a ""major setback.''
Israel has linked Arafat to the shipment, but he has vociferously denied the charge. Tensions were further inflamed by the killing Monday of a top Palestinian militant that many Palestinians blame on Israel.
While Harman said ""mistakes have been made on both sides,'' she was particularly critical of Arafat and the arms shipment.
""We've been briefed on this in great detail. The bottom line on this is that the Palestinian Authority, Iran and Hezbollah are implicated in this shipment of arms. It's not absolutely clear that Chairman Arafat knew, but there's a logical inference that he knew,'' she said.
""I think it is very important that Arafat act to explain his role and shut down any effort to increase the amount of arms'' flowing into the region, she added.