Memories of Reagan not so fond in Arab world

/ Source: The Associated Press

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi expressed regret Sunday that Ronald Reagan died without standing trial for 1986 airstrikes on his country, while other Arabs used the occasion of the former president’s death to lambast his Mideast policies.

Gadhafi said he was sorry that Reagan died Saturday before he could stand trial for deadly 1986 airstrikes he ordered that killed Gadhafi’s adopted daughter and 36 other people.

Reagan ordered the April 15, 1986, air raid in response to a disco bombing in Berlin allegedly called for by Gadhafi that killed two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman and wounded 229 people.

“I express my deep regret because Reagan died before facing justice for his ugly crime that he committed in 1986 against the Libyan children,” Libya’s official JANA news agency quoted Gadhafi as saying.

The United States branded Libya a rogue state in the 1980s, alleging state-sponsored support of terrorism and imposing trade sanctions on the country in 1986. But relations have warmed substantially since Gadhafi agreed in December to dismantle Libya’s biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

Gadhafi wasn’t alone in recalling Reagan’s 1981-1989 administration as a dark period for the Arab world.

Tense relations with the U.S.
Lebanon’s president expressed condolences, but Culture Minister Ghazi Aridi said the Reagan years marked the beginning of a “bad era” of American Mideast policy that continues to this day. He noted Reagan’s support of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which ended in May 2000, and the fact that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also served under Reagan, as a Middle East envoy.

“Rumsfeld was part of Reagan’s administration, this means that his policy is still going on,” said Aridi, who is with the Druse Progressive Socialist Party. Areas controlled by the party came under heavy American shelling by the U.S. destroyer New Jersey in 1983.

“In Reagan’s days, the destroyer New Jersey bombed poor areas of Mount Lebanon, the Americans protected Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, and joined the Israelis in imposing the May 17 agreements,” Aridi said referring to a failed deal to withdraw Israeli troops.

American interests were hit hard in Lebanon during that time. Suicide attacks against the U.S. Embassy in 1983 killed 63 people, and the bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut six months later killed 241 American servicemen. Dozens of Westerners were taken hostage.

Syria also has had tense relations with the U.S. for decades.

“Reagan’s role was bad for the Arab-Israeli conflict and was specifically against Syria. He was the victim of the Israeli right wing that was, and still is, dominating the White House,” said Haitham al-Kilani, a political analyst and former Syrian ambassador to the United Nations.

Some kind words from region
But some in the Middle East remembered Reagan as a friend.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud paid condolences in a letter to President Bush, saying he received the news of Reagan’s death with “deep pain.”

Reagan’s term in office “formed an important period in the international political life and a prominent juncture in the deep relations between our countries,” his office said in a statement.

The Israeli government also expressed sorrow over Reagan’s death.

“The people of Israel mourn the loss of one of the heroes of this generation, a committed leader and vigilant promoter and protector of the freedoms and democratic values that continue to serve as the solid foundation of the community of nations today,” a statement said.