Israel: new power bloc within; US backing undisturbed; Behind the Neumann resignation: he wasn't 'a team player'
The US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert G. Neumann, was forced to resign under pressure from Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., according to congressional sources.
The official reason given for Ambassador Neumann's resignation after only two months in office was "personal considerations." But the sources said that Neumann had offended Mr. Haig by indicating that he did not think the secretary had taken a strong enough position toward Israel following the Israeli air strike into Beirut on July 17.
It was known that some members of Haig's staff and the White House staff felt that Neumann was too partial toward Saudi Arabia and too soft in his attitude toward the Palestinians, but it was not clear whether this might have had any effect on Haig's determination against the ambassador.
According to unidentified sources quoted by the Washington Post, Neumann told Sen. Charles H. Percy (R) of Illinois, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that a Haig appearance on television on July 19 offended Neumann. On an ABC-TV program, Haig had declined to link Israeli bombing raids in Lebanon and US shipments of F-16 warplanes to Israel.
But Senator Percy did not recall the conversation with Neumann in that way and called his talk with the ambassador unremarkable.
"Neumann's free spirit," said one congressional staff specialist on Middle East affairs. "He's not a team player, and he may have made some comment not totally supportive of the Middle East policy.
"Neumann wanted a more evenhanded approach. He really wanted to give it to the Israelis."
Reached by telephone, the ambassador declined to comment on the reports concerning his resignation.
Neumann had headed the transition team at the State Department following President Reagan's election last year. But he may have been the only member of that team to have survived in a Foreign Service job following Haig's arrival at the department. Haig dismissed the transition team members after giving each just a few minutes to brief the new secretary.
The Austrian-born Neumann had been vice-chairman of Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies prior to being named envoy to Saudi Arabia. He had previously served as ambassador to Morocco and to Afghanistan. He has been replaced by Richard W. Murphy, currently ambassador to the Philippines.
Speaking to reporters July 28, Haig denied that Neumann's resignation was related in any way to a disagreement over tactics concerning the proposed sale of radar planes to Saudi Arabia.