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ISRAELIS ACCUSE U.S. OF `SLANDER' CAMPAIGN

Israeli leaders have accused the Bush administration of engaging in a "deliberate campaign of slander" by leaking reports that Israel was illegally selling U.S. weapons technology to China, South Africa and other nations.

Some Israeli officials suggested the leaks were an attempt to erode the relationship between the two countries. The reports were particularly embarassing to Defense Minister Moshe Arens, who is on a weeklong trip to the United States."We must get used to a situation in which we are faced with an administration that is not supportive of Israeli policy," Health Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday after the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Deputy Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who spent most of the weekend denying the stories, said the reports were part of an orchestrated effort to discredit Israel.

"This deliberate campaign of slander against Israel is intended to undermine Israel's position in the American public and the American Congress," he said.

"I don't know who is behind it, but I know that these are false reports, that they are without foundation, and they seek to create an illusion as though Israel does not abide by its agreements. It does abide by them, and it will continue to abide by them," Netanyahu said.

Israel has been accused of using American technology from the M9L Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile in its own Python 3 missiles that it exported to China. It also is suspected of using the technology in anti-tank missiles sold to South Africa and cluster bombs sold to Ethiopia and Chile.

President Bush's spokesman Monday denied that the United States is trying to harm Israel.

"No, that's not true, we want good relations with Israel," said Marlin Fitzwater when asked if U.S. officials are trying to poison the atmosphere.

"We've worked long and hard for good relations. We've got a difficult situation now with respect to the loan guarantees, but our overriding interest is the peace process," Fitzwater said.

Arens, departing the Pentagon after an hourlong session with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, repeated denials that Israel had sold Patriot missiles or technology to China.

Arens said he told Cheney there are "no grounds at all (to the allegations)."

Asked whether U.S.-Israeli relations had suffered because of the charges, the minister replied, "I hope it's not a crisis at all, because the allegations are groundless."

Asked whether a U.S. team would visit Israel to check the allegations, Arens said, "We would be ready to have a team come. It is a serious matter."

Arens is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State James Baker on Tuesday.