Rare Blip Appears In Powell Nomination

Monday, August 27, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

In the first spot on an otherwise squeaky clean record, US Secretary of State-designate has run into a flap for recently accepting a large sum of money for delivering a university lecture subsidized by a senior Lebanese official with ties to Syrian intelligence.

Five days before the US election in November, when it was widely assumed that Powell would be appointed secretary of state if Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush won, Powell received $200,000 for a lecture delivered at Tufts University, THE JERUSALEM POST reported on Sunday. The lecture series is sponsored by Lebanon’s new deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares, a close ally of the head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon and a backer of Hizb’Allah activities there.

Fares is a billionaire businessman and philanthropist, and has endowed the lecture series since 1991. The November 2 speech coincided with the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Fares by the university located in New England.

Though Powell had not yet been nominated as secretary of state when he was invited to speak or when he appeared, the transaction raised questions about Powell’s acceptance of money from a fund endowed by a foreign official with whom he could have future dealings, especially since Fares has routinely sought to cultivate influence with Republicans, including former President George Bush, former secretary of state James Baker, and former ambassador to Syria and Israel, Edward Djerejian. Djerejian has been tapped for a high-ranking position dealing with Middle East affairs in the new Bush administration and Baker is a key adviser to the president-elect.

At his confirmation hearing next Tuesday, Powell could be questioned by US Senators about the incident. Asked if he expects the episode will cause problems at the hearings, Powell said, “It’s really quite sad that this gentleman’s name would be sullied in articles when he is a member of the Board of Trustees of Tufts and endowed a speaking series.”

Powell said the fee was not as high as reported, but declined to say how much it was. “It was a regular speech,” he said of the Tufts engagement, “the kind I give all the time,” adding that he was paid from an endowment established to fund the speaking series, not Fares himself. Powell’s spokesman, Bill Smullen, said earlier, “to try to connect some dots that are not connectable is not fair here.”

In a statement laced with anti-Zionist rhetoric released Monday, Fares lashed out at the POST for publishing a story on the event, and accused the “Zionist lobby” of spreading “distortion and lies.” Fares said he was happy with the “noble relationship” linking him with several political leaders in the US and added: “If the Zionist lobby and those revolving in its orbit are displeased with this relationship, it’s their own business… envy is a killer.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he had “more problem” with the Lebanese reaction to the episode than the event itself. “It’s classical anti-Zionist rhetoric that borders on anti-Semitism,” he said. “The reaction from their office and in this propagandist tone and terms is un-called for.”

Fares is planning on attending the Inauguration events next week in Washington. He has been a key point of contact for the US State Department, which is helping Lebanon draft legislation to combat money laundering.

Meanwhile, sources in the region are speculating that Powell may make his maiden voyage to the region in his new job sometime in mid-February for celebrations in the Gulf marking 10 years since the liberation of Kuwait and the end of the Gulf War. According to these sources, the Gulf states are pushing hard for such a visit, and officials here are signaling that it would be a good opportunity for Powell to come and meet the players.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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