Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 1998, Pages 117-118

Facts for Your Files: A Chronology of U.S.-Middle East Relations

Compiled by Janet McMahon

Dec. 1: State Department spokesman James Rubin said the U.S. supported Israel's decision "in principle" to withdraw at an unspecified date from an unspecified area of the West Bank. U.S. officials also indicated support for Israel's proposal for a single withdrawal prior to final status negotiations, rather than the three withdrawals mandated by the Oslo accord and Hebron agreement.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel would annex the Jordan Valley and other Israeli-occupied areas of the West Bank if the Palestinians unilaterally declare statehood.
  • U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the $2 billion in oil sales allowed Iraq every six months under the oil-for-food agreement was not meeting Iraq's "urgent humanitarian requirements" and should be increased.
  • Greece and Turkey settled their decades-old dispute on the use of Aegean airspace for NATO air activities.

Dec. 2: After a months-long crisis leading to fears of a possible military coup, Pakistani President Farooq Leghari resigned and Supreme Court Chief Justice Saijad Ali Shah was demoted by his colleagues, leaving Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in power with the army's support.

  • U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, commander of NATO, told NATO defense ministers that a continued Western peacekeeping presence in Bosnia was necessary to sustain the Dayton peace accords and to break down "the wall of Serb resistance."
  • Turkey's State Security Court sentenced 33 people to death for their roles in the 1993 mob attack on a hotel in Sivas where prominent artists and intellectuals were meeting to discuss ways to promote secularism. The mob, said to include members of underground Islamic cells, set fire to the hotel, killing 37 participants.

Dec. 3: The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that a senior Mossad officer, later identified as Yehuda Gil, for years fabricated intelligence reports on Syria to his superiors.

  • As Iraq returned all monitoring equipment and Richard Butler, executive chairman of the U.N. special commission in charge of monitoring Iraq's weapons program, prepared to make his first visit to Iraq following the recent crisis over the presence of American inspectors, the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed Baradei, said IAEA inspectors found no signs that Baghdad had resumed nuclear weapons production during the absence of weapons inspection teams.
  • Wasim Sajjad, chairman of Pakistan's Senate, assumed office as acting president and Supreme Court Justice Ajmal Mian was named chief justice.

Dec. 4: The U.N. Security Council renewed for six months its "oil-for-food" agreement with Iraq, and announced it would consider increasing the amount of sales allowable in early 1998.

Dec. 5: At a press conference following their meeting in Paris, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rebuffed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's call for "bold decisions," saying Israel would wait at least five months before handing over any more West Bank territory.

  • As some 20,000 Turkish troops attacked separatist Kurd positions in northern Iraq, Iraq shut down its oil pipeline to Turkey, saying it would not export oil until the U.N. approved a plan for food distribution as part of its oil-for-food agreement.
  • At a preparatory meeting for the upcoming summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the foreign ministers of Iran and Iraq agreed to hold further meetings "to examine strengthening Iraqi-Iranian relations."

Dec. 6: Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, following a Geneva meeting with Secretary of State Albright, praised the Clinton administration's efforts on behalf of "the peace of the brave," which he described as "a strategic choice for the Palestinian people." Albright then flew back to Paris for a previously unscheduled meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Dec. 7: The Israeli cabinet voted to delay for a least a week debate on the extent and timing of an Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank.

Dec. 8: The exiled leadership of Egypt's militant Islamic Group denied responsibility for the Nov. 17 massacre of 58 foreign tourists at Hatshepsut Temple near Luxor and said it has "decided to stop targeting either the tourism industry or foreign tourists" in Egypt.

Dec. 9: At the opening of the eighth OIC summit in Iran, to which leadership of the 55-member organization rotated, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the "global arrogance" of the U.S., while moderate President Mohammed Khatami said Islamic civil society and the West were "not necessarily in conflict."

  • At a two-day meeting to assess the progress of the Dayton peace agreements, Western representatives authorized international mediator Carlos Westendorp to impose binding decisions on Bosnia's rival Muslim, Croat and Serb constituencies.
  • Despite the State Department's characterization of his visit as "ill-advised," Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan began a 52-nation tour with a stop in Baghdad.

Dec. 10: As the Palestinian Authority began its first census in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli government rushed through legislation prohibiting the surveying of Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem, saying it "will not allow any foreign sovereign activity in the city."

  • In the face of strong criticism of his country's increasing ties with Israel, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel made an early departure from the OIC summit in Tehran.

Dec. 11: The OIC summit concluded with a consensus statement criticizing Israel's practice of "state terrorism" and demanding a halt to illegal settlement construction.

  • In Baghdad, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan condemned the U.S.-backed sanctions against Iraq as a "mass form of terrorism," describing the U.S. as "a superpower whose leaders are blinded by the arrogance of their power."

Dec. 12: Meeting in Luxembourg, the European Union approved 11 countries for possible future membership, but rejected Turkey's decade-old bid. Referring to Ankara's campaign against its Kurdish minority, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-
Claude Juncker, host of the summit, said, "It cannot be that a country where torture is still practiced has a place at the European Union table."

  • Israeli Labor Minister Eli Ishai sent an open letter to convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard praising Pollard's "divine devotion" to Israel's security. Ishai sent the letter via Communications Minister Limor Livnat, who was scheduled to visit Pollard in prison in the upcoming week.

Dec. 14: Iranian President Mohammed Khatami called for a "thoughtful dialogue" with the American people.

  • Accusing the EU of erecting "a new, cultural Berlin wall," Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said, "We will have no political dialogue with the Union anymore."
  • The Israeli cabinet failed to agree on the extent of its long-delayed troop withdrawal from the West Bank.
  • Following a meeting with Palestinian President Arafat in the Gaza Strip, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan suggested Israel was responsible for the stalled peace process, urged President Clinton to use financial leverage on Israel to resume peace talks, and condemned "any behavior that takes the lives of innocent people for political purposes." On a visit to Ramallah earlier in the day, Farrakhan declared he was not anti-Semitic.

Dec. 15: Responding to Iranian President Khatami's remarks of the previous day, President Clinton said he "would like nothing better than to have a dialogue with Iran, as long as we can have an honest discussion of the relevant issues."

  • In Baghdad, chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler said Iraqi officials had told him "we would never be able to inspect presidential sites."
  • On trial in France, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the terrorist suspect known as Carlos the Jackal, accused the CIA and Israel's Mossad of murdering the two French intelligence agents and a Lebanese informant Sanchez is accused of killing.
  • Minister Louis Farrakhan abandoned plans to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
  • A charter flight from Tajikistan to Sharja in the UAE crashed in the desert nine miles from the airport, killing all but one of its 86 passengers and crew members.

Dec. 16: As President Clinton warned Iraq that he would consider other options if Saddam Hussain continued to obstruct the work of U.N. weapons inspectors, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged NATO ministers to develop a wider strategy to counter the nuclear, chemical and biological threat which "emanates largely from the Middle East and Eurasia."

  • On the basis that the agreement was no longer operative, a U.S. federal appeals court rejected a motion to allow public access to the onetime plea bargain between the U.S. and Saudi dissident Hani Abdel Rahim Sayegh, who had agreed to provide information to U.S. authorities on the Khobar Towars bombing in Dhahran.

Dec. 17: At a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels, Secretary of State Albright said the U.S. would not rule out the use of force if diplomacy failed to convince Iraq to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov disagreed, adding that "in this regard a solid, an overwhelming majority of the world is with us."

  • The Russian natural gas company Gazprom cancelled an agreement with the U.S. Export-Import Bank, citing U.S. "pressure on Russian companies implementing projects abroad," particularly with Iran.

Dec. 18: Secretary of State Albright held separate meetings in Paris with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Arafat.

  • Meeting at the White House, Turkey's Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz and President Clinton agreed to strengthen ties between their two countries.
  • A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, of the 27,800 to 34,800 tons of drugs donated to Bosnia between 1992 and mid-1996, at least half were useless or unusable.

Dec. 19: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel will not limit Jewish settlements, a position Palestinian President Arafat called "a tremendous step back" and "a gross violation" of signed agreements.

Dec. 20: Hundreds of Jewish settlers demonstrated outside the office of Prime Minister Netanyahu to protest plans for additional Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank.

  • At the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Jaber Ahmed Sabah called on Iran to resolve its dispute with Abu Dhabi over three contested islands and to improve its relations with its Gulf neighbors.
  • Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, arriving in Libya the day before his meeting with Col. Muammar Qaddafi, called for the lifting of U.N. sanctions against Libya, describing them as "tantamount to a weapon of mass destruction."

Dec. 21: In a speech to an international convention of the Likud Party, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called the West Bank "from the Yarkon to the Jordan [River]...the land of our forefathers, and we claim it to the same degree that the other side claims it."

Dec. 22: President Clinton met with American peacekeeping troops in Tuzla and visited Sarajevo, where he urged Bosnians to "seize the change before you."

  • The U.N. Security Council called "unacceptable" Iraq's refusal to open all its diputed sites to weapons inspectors.
  • Yugoslav federation President Slobodan Milosevic's hand-picked candidate, Milan Milutinovic, was declared the winner of Serbian presidential elections, described by international observers as "fundamentally flawed."
  • Iraq said it had "successfully concluded" talks with the U.N. on a new plan for distributing aid as part of the oil-for-food program.

Dec. 23: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu led his cabinet members on a helicopter tour of the West Bank.

Dec. 24: Suha Arafat, Christian wife of Palestine's president, lit Bethlehem's Christmas tree in a Manger Square ceremony.

  • Iraq's parliament appealed to Pope John II to speak out against and help end the U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq for the past seven years.
  • Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the international terrorist known as "Carlos," was convicted by a French court of murdering two French police agents and sentenced to life in prison.

Dec. 26: Palestinian President Arafat said he would present a "comprehensive plan" for peace with Israel at his January meeting with President Clinton.

  • Two Jewish extremists arrested for planning to throw a pig's head in Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan were ordered held an extra six days by an Israeli judge. A third man allegedly involved in the plot was already under arrest on an unrelated murder charge.
  • At a Gaza rally marking the 10th anniversary of Hamas' founding, leaders including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin called for Palestinian unity and a continuation of the struggle against Israeli occupation.
  • Iraqi leaders charged that the U.S. was planning air strikes to plant false evidence of chemical or biological weapons.
  • An Islamic star and crescent on display near the White House along with the National Christmas Tree and the National Hannukah Menorah was vandalized.

Dec. 27: The newly elected Bosnian Serb parliament held a raucus first session, with hard-liners, no longer in the majority, cutting off live television coverage.

Dec. 29: On the eve of a no-confidence vote in the Palestinian Legislative Council, President Arafat accepted his cabinet's resignation five months after it was submitted following allegations of extensive corruption.

  • Visiting Iranian President Khatami and President Saparmurad A. Niyazov of Turkmenistan inaugurated a 125-mile natural gas pipeline between their two countries.

Dec. 30: Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel must withdraw from at least 60 percent of the West Bank prior to final status negotiations.

  • Tatyana Suskin, the Jewish militant who put up posters in Hebron portraying the Prophet Muhammad as a pig, was convicted of committing an act of racism and trying to offend religious feelings.
  • On the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, 78 Algerians were killed in the western province of Relizane.

Dec. 31: Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai laid a cornerstone for the expansion of the illegal Jewish settlement of Beit El north of Ramallah.