A headline on a Metro section article yesterday about an offer to the D.C. government by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations stated that the offer had been made by "Arabs." The directors, staff and financial backers of the nonprofit foundation include Americans as well as Arab-Americans and Arabs.
An Arab-American lobbying group has offered to pay the way for 10 teen-agers participating in Mayor Marion Barry's Youth Leadership Institute to visit Jordan and Israel next year to learn firsthand about the Middle East.
D.C. government officials who oversee the leadership institute seem willing to accept the offer, but are nervous about offending Jewish organizations by sanctioning a trip designed partly to gain sympathy for the Arab viewpoint.
"They the group came to us and suggested it," said Charles Seigel, a spokesman for the Department of Human Services, which operates the youth institute. "We're talking to other groups to see if we can get a coalition of groups to sponsor it."
The city received the offer from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, a nonprofit foundation created in May 1983 that offers travel grants and conducts programs to enhance the image of Arab countries.
The council has urged the U.S. government to "remove the disincentives" for American firms engaged in trade with the Middle East by amending or repealing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and laws that prevent U.S. companies from cooperating with the Arab economic boycott of Israel.
D.C. City Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) questioned yesterday a city agency's accepting funds from a group lobbying for foreign interests. Shackleton is chairman of the Human Services Committee, which oversees the the Department of Human Services.
"I do believe in international exchanges, but if it's sort of an out-and-out lobbying operation and it's just one point of view, I must say I might have some problems," Shackleton said.
Barry acknowledged yesterday that there might be come controversy over accepting an offer from a pro-Arab organization, but added that the proposed trip was compatible with the city's emphasis on a "public-private partnership."
"I don't think the District's politics should be interlocked with the politics of the world," Barry said. "We get along with everyone."
The mayor emphasized that the proposed trip is "in the talking stage," and that "before they go, I'll have to approve it."
The original plan was to send 10 teen-agers and two city staff members to the Middle East in December, according to a Nov. 2 memorandum written by Vernon E. Hawkins, a high-ranking official of the Department of Human Services.
However, officials of the department and the council said this week they were still working out the terms of the agreement, and that the trip probably wouldn't be made until next April.
"I don't think it's entirely sewn up yet," said Robin A. Roosevelt, an official of the council.
Roosevelt said that the Middle East is of "vital importance" to the United States but that little information is made available here about that region. By sending D.C. youngsters to the Middle East, he said, his group hopes to influence their thinking through "early exposure."
Last year, the group awarded 16 grants and made three related awards to finance study tours to Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and the West Bank for American educators, scholars and officials of international affairs organizations. The Washington-based organization, headed by John Duke Anthony, former president of the Middle East Educational Trust, also conducts international conferences and sponsors a Middle East speakers bureau.
Jackie Robinson, director of the mayor's youth leadership insitute, declined to discuss his negotiations with the council for the proposed overseas trip.
"There's nothing secret about the trip," he said. "It's very positive."
The city-funded youth leadership institute has a staff of eight and was designed, in the mayor's words, to serve as a "structured and systematic way of developing strong leadership for the future."
About 400 teen-agers take part in the program each year. They receive summer jobs arranged for by the city, attend leadership training programs at Howard University, and take part in community projects and volunteer work.
The institute sponsors a weekly radio interview program on WUST. Recent guests on the show included Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, D.C. City Council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), who was defeated in the Nov. 6 general election, and Barry.