WASHINGTON (Jul. 16)
Both Ambassador George Ball, U.S. envoy to the United Nations, and McGeorge Bundy, formerly President Johnson’s closest personal adviser on international security, may have had instructions to informally urge Israel to be more flexible on the question of direct, face-to-face peace negotiations. This was learned today from high-level Administration sources.
Meanwhile, important Republican Congressmen charged that the Administration was deliberately deferring action on the sale of Phantom Jets to Israel to maintain leverage to influence Israeli policies on negotiations.
State Department sources said that while Mr. Bundy was in Israel for the Ford Foundation they could not rule out the possibility that Mr. Johnson asked him to quietly ascertain how far Israel would go in talking to the Arabs through intermediaries, Mr. Bundy remains in close touch with the President.
(Mr. Bundy headed for talks with King Hussein in Amman, Jordan, today, and speculation increased in Israel that the object of his visit to Middle Eastern capitals was more than just “Ford Foundation business” as he insisted. He conferred with top Israeli officials after visiting Cairo and Beirut.)
Administration officials pointed out that Moscow is now stressing that if the U.S. hopes for a reduction of world tensions and results at the Paris peace talks, the “liquidation of Israeli aggression” must lie regarded as being as dangerous as the Vietnam war. The two issues have been bracketed in recant public statements by Soviet leaders.
The State Department said that U.S. policy aims at “de-fusing” tensions in the Middle East to avoid a confrontation there with Russia. There is also a hope of normalizing relations with Arab states. U.S. feels that what it considers excessive Israeli rigidity is a roadblock to a workable East-West detent in the Middle East.
Administration officials maintain that Israel does not currently need Phantom jets and that the issue remains under study in the context of other factors. One point made is that Russia recently suggested arms control in the Middle East and apparently withheld new military commitments sought by Egyptian President Nasser in Moscow last week. In view of what appears to be fluidity in Moscow’s stand on the Arab military build-up, officials have said, now is not the right time to introduce the U.S. Phantoms into the region. Israel’s ultimate security will be found in accommodation through United Nations mediation along the lines of U.N. peace envoy Gunnar Jarring’s efforts, or some other intermediary, important Executive Department authorities have told Congressmen. A warning is beginning to emerge from Israel’s friends in Congress that the Administration may be seeking an accommodation with Russia and the Arabs at Israel’s expense.