U.S. official dubbed a vulgar Zionist

WASHINGTON — It took U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns almost three weeks to condemn the call by the Palestinian Authority's justice minister to murder Arabs who sold land to Jews.

But it only took a day for Burns to give a Bronx cheer when Freih Abu Medein decided to resign.

"We had a major disagreement with the Palestinian justice minister because he condoned — publicly, on the record and quite openly — political assassinations for those people who were suspected of dealing land to Jews and Israelis in Israel and in the West Bank," Burns said Monday.

"We haven't shed any tears over his resignation because here's someone who tried to pour oil on the flames and incite violence against Israelis."

In turn, Abu Medein erupted, calling Burns a "cowboy, a vulgar cowboy with a Zionist attitude."

It appears that Burns will get the last word.

In his last briefing as spokesman before moving to an expected posting as U.S. ambassador to Greece, Burns said, "I'm proud to be called a vulgar cowboy with a Zionist attitude if, in fact, he's upset with me for calling him someone who's been irresponsible in public office and who doesn't deserve to hold public office."

Burns, who has been criticized for leaning toward the Palestinians during his two-a-half-year stint as spokesman, ended his tenure on what seems to be a pro-Israel note.

Jamie Rubin, who will assume the role of spokesman later this week, will become the first Jew to hold the post since Bernard Kalb resigned more than 10 years ago.