LONDON (Jul. 4)
President Gamal Abdel Nasser, of Egypt, arrived in Moscow today as his Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Riad, who is currently touring Scandinavian capitals, launched what appeared to be a new Egyptian peace offensive and a determined effort to discredit Israel in the eyes of nations that have been friendly to it or neutral in the Middle East dispute. The Egyptian Chief of State was warmly welcomed in Moscow by Soviet President Nikolai V. Podgorny, Premier Alexei N. Kosygin, and Leonid I. Brezhnev, first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee. But attention here was focused on the remarks of Mr. Riad who reportedly said in Denmark today that allegations that the Arabs demand the destruction of Israel was “stupid propaganda” because “we accept the realities and one of those is Israel” and “we only want peace now.”
These were the latest developments in a week that saw renewed activity by United Nations special peace envoy Ambassador Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring, a proposal from Moscow for an agreement to slacken arms shipments to the Middle East, and visits or scheduled visits by top aides of the Johnson Administration to Middle Eastern capitals.
According to the British Broadcasting Corp., Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart hailed Mr. Riad’s reported Copenhagen remarks as a sign that a Middle East settlement might have come appreciably nearer in the last few weeks. Another promising sign, Stewart reportedly noted, was the renewal of direct contacts between Dr. Jarring and all of the interested parties in the Middle East dispute. Dr. Jarring, officially on vacation, met with Mr. Riad in Stockholm two weeks ago and with Israel Foreign Minister Abba Eban in The Hague last week. Following that meeting, Dr. Jarring flew to Moscow for talks with the Soviet leaders who are now entertaining Mr. Nasser.
Just prior to his departure for Moscow, Mr. Nasser was visited in Cairo by McGeorge Bundy, president of the Ford Foundation and a former advisor on defense and foreign relations to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Mr. Bundy then flew to Beirut; it was announced in Jerusalem today that he was expected in Israel on July 15. Also due to visit Israel in mid-July was White House advisor Walt Rostow Jr., while former United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, now president of the World Bank, was due in Cairo shortly. Although Mr. Bundy’s visit to the Middle East was officially in connection with Ford Foundation matters, there was considerable speculation here and in Jerusalem that he might have been entrusted by President Johnson with some special mission in connection with a peace settlement. The London Times reported from Beirut today that a Middle East solution was hardly possible unless Moscow and Washington strive in the same direction and noted that Mr. Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election may have provided an opportunity – hence the signs of improving relations between Washington and Cairo and the series of visitors from Washington and New York to the Middle East. The Times’ implication seemed to be that Mr. Johnson, who will retire next January, feels free now to pursue a Middle East settlement without undue concern over domestic politics.
DIPLOMATS SEE MOSCOW, WASHINGTON PURSUING SIMILAR COURSES
That view coincided with a general feeling among diplomatic observers that both Moscow and Washington are moving along parallel, if not converging courses, to push some sort of Middle East settlement now.
Observers here felt that the timing and tone of the Egyptian Foreign Minister’s reported remarks in Denmark were important and could be linked with the official description of Mr. Nasser’s Moscow trip as “a peace mission.” These observers see the Soviet Government’s active diplomacy as an encouraging development. Press reports in recent days have pictured the Russians as worried over the threat to left-wing Arab regimes by conservative Arab governments should the Middle East impasse continue or a new war erupt. They also said that the United States and Great Britain were deeply concerned by the lack of progress so far toward a Middle East settlement and were prepared to push energetically for one.
Much now depends on the reaction of the Israel Government, observers said here today. According to the BBC, some think that the “hawks” in Tel Aviv may take the Egyptian attitude as evidence that a tough policy pays and will argue in favor of increased toughness in the hope of forcing the Arabs into direct negotiations. Others suggest that the international climate is now so strongly in favor of a settlement that Israel would find it difficult to maintain a completely uncompromising attitude.
(The Paris daily, L Aurore said today that Mr. Nasser instructed Foreign Minister Riad to influence public opinion against Israel in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland so that he might have Scandinavian support when the Palestine problem is raised again at the UN. The paper did not think he would achieve his aim because the democratic countries of Scandinavia “have more sympathy for the State of Israel than for the Arab countries where dictatorship is almost universal.”)
(In Helsinki today, a high-ranking official of the political department of the Finnish Foreign Ministry took sharp issue with a reported remark by Mr. Riad that “the northern countries are not satisfied with Israel’s stand.” He said that if Mr. Riad had meant to include Finland in that statement, he is wrong. The Finnish Government, he stressed, remains neutral in the Middle East dispute and has not expressed dissatisfaction with the stand of Israel.
(Foreign Ministry sources in Finland were quoted as saying that no official criticism whatever of Israel’s position had been expressed in talks with Mr. Riad.)