Air attacks on oil trucks strain relations between U.S., Jordan WAR IN THE GULF

February 06, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN, Jordan -- With the toll of bombed Jordanian oil trucks rising daily on the western plains of Iraq, relations between the United States and Jordan have reached their all-time low, this country's chief government spokesman said yesterday.

"I don't think it has reached this point at any time," Information Minister Ibrahim Izzadine said, and his assessment included the strained times following the 1967 Mideast war, when Jordan lost the West Bank territory to Israel.

At least then, Mr. Izzadine said, the United States had no direct role in the fighting. But now the United States is leading a military alliance against Jordan's eastern neighbor, Iraq.

Not only has the Iraqi cause become a sentimental favorite among an outraged Jordanian public (a car belonging to a U.S. military attache was set ablaze yesterday), but the allied air attacks along the highway between Baghdad and Jordan have destroyed 36 Jordanian oil trucks, bringing the war's casualty list home to the streets of Amman.

Government officials said yesterday that eight drivers had been killed in the attacks, with at least 20 injuries, and for the second time in a week Foreign Minister Taher al-Masri called in the U.S. ambassador to protest.

The United States maintains that the road is a key supply route for the Iraqi military and is used by the elusive Scud missile launchers that target Israel from western Iraq.

But the road is also the only path to Jordan for fleeing refugees, and for several months the road has been Jordan's only supply line for oil.

U.S. officials say the attempted precision of the bombing runs has been foiled by the Iraqi tactic of interspersing military cargoes with convoys of civilians and oil trucks.

But Mr. Izzadine said yesterday that the stricken trucks had been traveling on their own in the light of day, and Mr. al-Masri has called the attacks "an outrageous aggression on innocent Jordanian civilians."

On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar joined in the criticism, calling the attacks "inadmissible" and asking, "Why should Jordan suffer from a war in which it is not a party?"

U.S. officials have responded to Jordanian criticism with diplomatic snubs, first by chiding Jordan for importing Iraqi oil at all. The State Department said the shipments were violations of U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq.

On Monday the United States also further pared down its diplomatic staff in Amman and advised other Americans to leave Jordan.

Mr. Izzadine termed the advisory unnecessary.

"We are rather surprised, really, to hear all these statements," he said. "We think Amman is safer than any European capital, not to mention any American city."

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