The White House is taking strong issue with comments made late Thursday by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He accused Washington of appeasing Arabs at Israel's expense in order to win support for the war on terrorism. The Bush administration responded with rare criticism of an ally.
The White House response was blunt. Spokesman Ari Fleischer delivered a statement from the president. "The president believes that these remarks are unacceptable," he said. "Israel could have no better or stronger friend than the United States... and a better friend than President Bush."
Mr. Fleischer said this message was conveyed directly to the Israelis through three channels. "It was conveyed through the embassy in Israel, it was conveyed through the National Security Council, and it was conveyed through the State Department," he added. "Secretary Powell has spoken with the prime minister."
President Bush did not personally talk to Mr. Sharon. And spokesman Fleischer quickly tried to move the focus from the prime minister's comments to the need to reinvigorate the peace process. "The United States," he said, "has been [working], and will continue to work very hard to secure peace in the Middle East, to press the parties to end the violence and to return to a political dialogue. And that will continue to be the goals and policies of the United States."
The comments from Ariel Sharon came in a speech late Thursday. He left no doubt there is concern in Israel that the United States is going too far to try to win Arab cooperation in the war against terrorism.
Mr. Sharon drew a parallel to 1938, when European democracies stood aside while Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in order to appease Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. "Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense," he said. "This is unacceptable to us. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism."
Aides to Prime Minister Sharon later moved to defuse the controversy. They told news agencies that the Israel leader was not taking rhetorical aim at the United States, but was warning the world that appeasement never works.