In the wake of a report in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post regarding Saudi Arabia's ongoing enforcement of an anti-Israel trade embargo, a prominent Republican Congressman sharply criticized the desert kingdom and said he plans to raise the issue with senior Bush administration officials.
"It is unacceptable," New Jersey Rep. Mike Ferguson, a member of the House of Representatives" influential Subcommittee on Commerce and Trade, told the Post. "My colleagues and I raised a number of concerns last year about Saudi Arabia joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), including their participation in the Arab boycott of Israel.
"Now that the Saudis have joined the WTO," Ferguson said, "what we are finding is that they are not following the rules."
As the Post first reported on May 30, Saudi officials continue to bar entry to Israeli-made goods despite repeated promises to Washington that they would drop their decades-old boycott of the Jewish state. The Bush Administration had conditioned Riyadh's entry into the WTO on such a move.
The WTO, which granted membership to the Saudis in December, prohibits signatories from engaging in discriminatory trade practices, such as embargoes or boycotts.
Nonetheless, in recent months the Saudis have hosted a major international conference aimed at strengthening the trade embargo against the Jewish state, and they sent an official delegation to Damascus to take part in a meeting of the Arab League's boycott office.
"Saudi Arabia has a responsibility to follow the provisions of the WTO," Ferguson said. "There is not one set of rules for the Saudis, and one for everyone else."
The congressman said that he plans to meet soon with US Trade Representative-nominee Susan Schwab in order to raise his concerns about Saudi Arabia's policy regarding Israel and its WTO commitments.
Contacted by the Post, Stephen J. Norton, a spokesman for the US Trade Representative, said that Washington has received assurances from the Saudis that they are not enforcing a boycott of the Jewish state.
"Saudi officials have affirmed on several occasions, at meetings in Washington and in Riyadh, and in written correspondence, that they understand their WTO commitments and that they will abide by them," he said.
"As recently as April," Norton added, the US Trade Representative had "received a letter from the Saudi Commerce Minister restating that position."
Asked what measures would be taken if Saudi Arabia were found to be violating its pledge, he declined to comment.
US State Department spokesman Tom Casey told the Post via e-mail that the Bush Administration has "raised this issue directly with senior Saudi officials on several occasions. In all instances, we have received assurances that Saudi Arabia understands and remains committed to their WTO obligations, including the obligation to treat all WTO members according to WTO rules."
Ferguson, however, was less sanguine. "Their actions don't seem to be matching their rhetoric," he said. "And this sends a very bad message to the world that the WTO doesn't take its own rules seriously."
"The US," he declared, "has an important role to play to encourage and cajole the Saudis to follow the rules."
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