WASHINGTON (Sep. 11)
State Department officials today welcomed President Johnson’s declaration on the Middle East interpreting it as strengthening diplomatic efforts to persuade Israel that direct peace talks were not essential, that the fate of Jerusalem remained negotiable and on other points. They termed it a “statesmanlike response” to recent developments in the Arab states, especially Egypt. The President’s failure to act on Israel’s bid for Phantom jet fighter planes, they said, contributed to a greater fluidity and flexibility for American diplomacy.
Israeli diplomats here were seeking clarification on a number of points in the Johnson address. The Israel Embassy was reported to be evaluating the speech to ascertain its full meaning and many nuances. Since the speech followed so shortly after Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allan had met with President Johnson and presidential candidates of both parties had urged supply of the Phantoms to Israel from the same forum in which the President spoke, the implications of the President’s omissions and new positions were regarded as subjects requiring careful study.
State Department officials said that the President, in his speech, had avoided a new linkage of the United States with Israel at a time of increased tension to avoid a possible East-West confrontation in the Middle East that might develop to America’s disadvantage. There also seemed to be concern that the Nasser regime in Egypt was in danger. This anxiety was shared by the President who apparently agreed with a State Department desire to avoid further polarization. President Johnson was credited with expansion of his June 19,1967 formula to the extent that U.S. diplomats now find open White House backing on points the State Department wanted to push.
State Department officials said the President’s “timely statesmanship” reduced the “damage” to the United States among pro-Western Arab elements they charged Richard M. Nixon and Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey had caused in their Sunday speeches to B’nai B’rith — especially the Nixon speech. The Department was infuriated by Mr. Nixon’s proposal that the balance of power should be tipped in Israel’s favor to deter aggression.
U.S. Middle East experts said the speech showed President Johnson had “swung away from the domestic politicians” and “pressure” from American Jewry. They said his dismissal of the Israeli demand for direct negotiations “gives us a lot to work with” and his remarks on Jerusalem backed up State Department efforts to keep the Jerusalem question open. The President’s comments on the defense needs of friendly states and the balance of power, they said, “fell very far short of what the President said in his joint communique with Premier Eshkol at the LBJ ranch last January.” Other remarks by the President, including his reference to the Arab refugee problem, they said, would prove to be “helpful.”