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Eshkol Says President Johnson Promised Phantom Deliveries Would Begin in 1970

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said in a radio interview Sunday night that he was fully confident that Israel would receive its supersonic F-4 Phantom jet fighter-bombers from the United States in 1970, if not before. Mr. Eshkol said, “On this matter I rely on the promise of the U.S. President – he is still President – and what he told me at our last meeting which was that deliveries would begin in 1970.” Mr. Eshkol was referring to his meeting with President Johnson at the latter’s ranch in Texas last January. He said, “The assumption is – and I want to be careful – that it (the deliveries) will be concluded then and there is a chance, or a hope, that it might be advanced.”

The Prime Minister referred to delivery of the Phantoms in his Kol Israel interview in order to allay fears rising from a statement by William W. Scranton, President-elect Nixon’s fact-finding envoy to the Middle East, that the 1,800 mph war planes would not reach Israel before 1971. Mr. Scranton re- portedly made that prediction when he was here last week. Negotiations for Israel’s purchase of a reported 58 Phantoms costing about $5 million apiece, are presently going on in Washington. Government sources said the negotiations are in the final stages and all that remains to be worked out are financing and credit arrangements.

(Gov. Scranton appeared on the NBC’s “Today” show this morning and called for American efforts to improve relations with the Arab countries. The controversial special fact-finder for President-elect Nixon said there were three compelling reasons why the United States should better its relations with the Arabs. First, he said, there were the American economic interests. Secondly, an increased American influence in the Arab countries could strengthen the pressures for peace between the Arabs and Israel. Thirdly, he said, the United States must avoid “a complete polarization” in which the Arabs would be lined up with the Soviet Union and the Israelis with the United States.)

Mr. Eshkol reported to the Cabinet yesterday on the status of the Phantom negotiations and on Defense Minister Dayan’s meeting in New York Saturday with Mr. Nixon. The Prime Minister also briefed Cabinet members on his talks here last week with Mr. Scranton. He said that Mr. Nixon’s emissary stressed that he came to the Middle East “to listen” and report back to the President-elect. He said he carried no messages from Mr. Nixon and that he did not know what Mr. Nixon’s Middle East policy would be.

Mr. Scranton aroused considerable concern here by his assertion that the U.S. should pursue “a more even-handed policy” in the Middle East. Some observers thought that it presaged a change in U.S. policy in the region which might be detrimental to Israel. In New York, however, a spokesman for Mr. Nixon promptly dissociated the President-elect from Mr. Scranton’s statement, saying it was “a Scranton remark, not a Nixon remark.” But Mr. Scranton repeated it again in New York following his briefing of Mr. Nixon last Friday.

Defense Minister Dayan returned today from his three-day visit to the United States and told newsmen at the airport that he sensed no change in America’s attitude toward Israel in his brief meeting in New York Saturday with President-elect Nixon. He described it as “a pleasant courtesy visit” and said, “in any case, the talk was in general terms. He asked questions end I replied as well as I could.” Gen. Dayan met with Prime Minister Eshkol immediately after his arrival, presumably to give him a fuller report on his visit to the U.S. He declined to comment for newsmen on the question of the Phantom jets.

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