WASHINGTON -- Morocco's King Hassan II, injecting a new controversy into Middle Eastern politics, this week quoted President Bush as saying that Arabs would not find a more supportive U.S. administration than his own "for a long time."
The White House quickly distanced Mr. Bush from the king's remarks yesterday, with a spokesman saying there was no record that the president said those words.
The spokesman stopped short of an outright denial, however, since Mr. Bush was traveling and had not been directly questioned about the comment.
In an interview widely broadcast in the Arab world, King Hassan said the president had told him in New York in January: "My friend, tell your Arab brothers, especially the Palestinians, that for a long time they will find no better support than that given by my government and administration, support which I will continue to give even though I am going through an election year."
The remarks, aired Monday night by the Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Corp., were translated here by the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service. A full transcript in French was made available by the Moroccan Embassy.
The claim that the Bush administration is supportive of the Arabs, if true, could depart from its public posture of being an evenhanded honest broker, pressing Arabs and Israelis in roughly equal measure to make compromises for peace.
As such, it could cause another furor in Israel, where public opinion is explosively sensitive to signs of a pro-Arab tilt by Mr. Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Israeli diplomats in Washington refused to comment on the interview.
The interview comes a few weeks after the United States reaffirmed its support for a United Nations General Assembly resolution asserting a right of return on the part of Palestinian refugees.
But State Department officials subsequently stressed that the issue must be resolved through direct negotiations and is not
on the current peace-talks agenda.
King Hassan put into words what is often suggested privately by officials of moderate Arab governments: that Mr. Bush, through his leadership of the anti-Iraq coalition and driving role in the peace process, represents the best possible U.S. administration from their point of view.
These officials see the Bush administration as both more sympathetic and willing to confront Israeli supporters in Congress than recent predecessors or the president's election opponents.