WASHINGTON (Nov. 19)
Highly-placed State Department officials have transmitted to the Soviet Union a United States concept on Israeli withdrawal that would mean the return, with some exceptions, to conditions that existed prior to June 5, 1967, when the Six-Day War began. It was learned today that the State Department formula conceives a restoration of the earlier situation with some exceptions involving Jerusalem, possibly the Gaza Strip, and some international “guarantees” reminiscent of those formulated in 1957, after the 1956 Suez Campaign.
Undersecretaries of State Nicholas Katzenbach and Eugene Rostow have, in the past 10 days embarked on pressure on Israel to consider concessions, it was reported. This development coincided with the decision of Israeli Premier Levi Eshkol to cancel a scheduled visit to Washington to meet President Johnson. It was learned that Mr. Eshkol would not come to Washington until the Johnson Administration was over.
(In Jerusalem it was reported today that Premier Eshkol had postponed his trip to the United States, scheduled for December, with no new date set. The reason for the postponement was reported to be the press of urgent matters which had piled up while the Premier was bedridden recently with a virus infection.)
State Department officials claimed today there would be continuity in the new moves they were making on Israel through contacts with Moscow. They said the initiatives were required to normalize the Middle East and avert war.
The State Department was the source of reports that President-elect Nixon was preparing for early discussions on the Middle East with the Soviet Union, Israel, Egypt, and other Arab states. Officials said that Mr. Nixon was considering taking the initiative to restore diplomatic relations with Egypt. The Johnson Administration had wanted to resume relations with Cairo some time ago but President Nasser demanded unilateral American support of unconditional withdrawal by Israel. Diplomats said Mr. Nixon would soon get a report from former Treasury Secretary Robert Anderson, who saw President Nasser on what Anderson and the State Department described as private business.
U.S. Administration leaders recognize, however, that Russian military moves in support of the Arabs indicate the need for the supply of the Phantom jets long sought by Israel. But an attempt was made, it was reported, in the first draft of a memorandum to impose conditions unacceptable to Israel. Included was Israeli adherence to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Israel rejected the draft. Another was substituted today which eliminated most of the objectionable conditions, it was understood. It is now anticipated that the memorandum of understanding will be signed within a week. Then more detailed negotiations will be opened with Defense Department officials. By mid-December the actual transaction may take final form.
The United States position, as communicated to the Soviets, still calls for a peace settlement but spells out in advance the concessions Washington feels Israel should make. Some sort of demilitarized boundary solution is seen to the Gaza Strip and some negotiations envisaged on Jerusalem. The exact outline was not precisely known but it was believed that the whole concept, including control of the Strait of Tiran, was one that Israel would not find acceptable. President Johnson’s address before the B’nai B’rith is being invoked by the State Department in insisting that peace must not reflect the impact of military conquest.
The new diplomacy may not be considered by the new Administration as binding and it may be taken to reflect the personal initiatives of State Department leaders during the closing days of the Johnson Administration. Israel is expected to proceed cautiously because of the peculiar timing of the new initiatives. It was learned that Israel Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin met with Katzenbach and Rostow, in two separate visits to the Department in recent days, at their request.