Secretary of State James A. Baker III yesterday summoned Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval to express his displeasure with Shoval's accusation earlier in the day that the United States was giving Israel the "runaround" on housing aid for Soviet Jewish immigrants, U.S. officials and Israeli sources said last night.
Shoval, in an interview with Reuter, also had complained that Israel has received no compensation for huge losses incurred as a result of the Persian Gulf War.
Baker complained to Shoval in their meeting that he did not appreciate Shoval's critical tone in public because the $400 million in housing loan guarantees was to have been resolved "between friends," Israeli sources said.
Congress approved the loan guarantees 10 months ago, but in testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Baker said Israel still has not provided all the necessary technical data and clarifications of its promises not to use the money to settle Soviet Jews in the occupied Palestinian areas -- the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Baker told the committee that when the required information is in hand, he would recommend immediately extending the $400 million guarantee.
Shoval, who characterized his meeting with Baker as "a very frank discussion . . . and I don't mean frank in the diplomatic sense of the word, I mean it in the correct sense of the word," said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press that Baker seemed "upset" by his remarks to Reuter.
"They were certainly not meant to upset him," Shoval told AP.
A source familiar with the 20-minute meeting told Reuter that Baker "basically delivered a reprimand."
Israeli sources said Shoval told Baker the criticism attributed to him "might have been too harsh" but that it reflects the puzzlement in Jerusalem and the failure of the Israeli government to understand why the loan guarantee, which Israel feels is a humanitarian matter, is being held up.
Shoval told Baker that Israel two or three days ago sent the United States information it believed would answer U.S. questions about its housing plans for Soviet Jewish immigrants, the Israeli sources said.
The ambassador told AP that because the request for the loan guarantees has "dragged on for a long time," Israelis "don't understand, and this creates, unnecessarily, . . . some bad vibes."
In the Reuter interview, Shoval said, "We sometimes feel we are being given the runaround, although to the best of my understanding Israel has fully complied with the requests that were raised in this connection by the United States government."
He also chafed at a lack of assistance for war costs.
"Not being part of the coalition . . . we have not received one cent of aid in spite of the fact that we have had immense direct military costs . . . not to mention even the indirect economic costs such as the loss of tourism," he said. "We demand that these needs and necessities be addressed as swiftly as possible."
Earlier this week, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Arens, after meeting at the White House with President Bush, said damage to Israel "is very significant. We see sights of destruction in Israel that have not been seen in Western countries since World War II."
U.S. officials have said they expect that Israel, which is the largest U.S. aid recipient at $3 billion, will soon request $13 billion, including $10 billion in loan guarantees, $1 billion in additional military aid for Patriot missiles and other hardware, and $2 billion in economic aid to cover damage and other war costs.