A State Department official's comment in a television interview that some Palestinian attacks against Israel could be described as "legitimate acts of resistance" has triggered an Israeli complaint and a departmental denial that the statement represents U.S. policy.
Gordon S. Brown, director of the office of Arabian Peninsula affairs, made the remark Monday in a teleconference interview with Arab journalists from the Persian Gulf region. The interview was conducted over the U.S. Information Agency's WORLDNET satellite system.
In the interview, Brown said that some armed actions by the Palestine Liberation Organization might "fall within our definition of legitimate acts of resistance within the occupied territories." In response to a question about the 1982 Israeli bombing of Beirut, he said: "It's terrorism to the same degree, I suppose, as Katyusha rockets across the border from Lebanon into Israel are."
The remarks prompted the Israeli Embassy here to seek an explanation from the State Department. "We were told this was not the view of the U.S. government," embassy spokesman Yossi Gal said. "While we would have been happier if the situation had not arisen, that answers our concerns."
The Israeli government and its supporters in this country have complained frequently in the past that career diplomats assigned to the State Department's bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian affairs have an instinctive bias toward the Arab side in the Middle East conflict because most of their professional lives have been spent serving in or dealing with Arab countries.
"What Brown said was inconsistent with longstanding U.S. policy," said Michael I. Austrian, spokesman for the bureau. "It was an unfortunate use of language, and the Israeli Embassy was advised that Mr. Brown misspoke himself."
Brown could not be reached for comment. The Associated Press, however, quoted him as saying yesterday: "I was caught off-guard by a question that I mishandled. It was an effort to say that as long as there is a state of war, violence exists in the area."
The AP report, which other department officials said was an accurate account of Brown's explanation, quoted him as saying that the Arab questioners had tried three times "to get me to define terrorism. The third time I stated it wrong. I am prepared to say I made a mistake and let it lie at that."