By MICHAEL FREUND
A key US congresswoman is threatening to take legislative action against Saudi Arabia following a report in The Jerusalem Post that the desert kingdom took part in an Arab League conference aimed at strengthening the boycott of Israel.
Representatives from 14 Arab states gathered in Damascus for a four-day meeting last week to reaffirm support for the economic and trade embargo against the Jewish state.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat from Nevada who sits on the Subcommittee on Trade of the US House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee, denounced the parley in Damascus, saying that it called into question the commitment of the Arab states to negotiating peace with Israel.
"This is completely counterproductive to bringing about peace in the Middle East," Berkley told the Post. "Just when Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice is making trips to the region and bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together, the Arab League is showing once again that it is not serious about peace and that its members would rather employ boycotts and terrorist attacks than take part in negotiations and dialogue."
Berkley was especially critical of the Saudis for participating in the Damascus conference, noting that they had promised Washington to abandon the boycott in exchange for admission to the World Trade Organization.
As a result of their pledge, the Saudis joined the WTO in December 2005. The WTO prohibits member states from engaging in discriminatory practices such as boycotts or embargoes.
"It is intolerable for the Saudis to be participating in this conference after they gave their word to drop their boycott," the five-term congresswoman said, adding, "My colleagues and I are very concerned about the precedent that this sets for the WTO, for American relations with the Saudis and for the future of trade relations."
"Given the fact that they have not honored their word, and have broken this promise, I am strongly considering calling for their WTO membership to be rescinded," she said.
"When I return to Washington, DC," Berkley promised, speaking from Nevada, "I will be drafting a letter to the Saudis with my colleagues setting forth our displeasure at their actions. If our letter is ignored, I will not hesitate for one moment to call for hearings or to sponsor a resolution condemning this boycott Israel conference."
Berkley also said she planned to raise the issue with the US Trade Representative's Office and the State Department, "and I will urge them to take an aggressive stance."
"If we cannot take leaders at their word, I'm not sure how we can negotiate with them in the future," she said, referring to the Saudi regime.
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