WASHINGTON (Jan. 14)
State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey announced today that the State Department was preparing a reply to communications from the Soviet Union on the Middle East conflict. He said the reply will communicate the American ideas on the situation and seek clarification of Russian suggestions. The American reply was expected to be made later this week. “We will be communicating our own ideas and seeking clarification from the Soviet Union on several points,” Mr. McCloskey said. State Department sources said that Washington was particularly interested in the question of boundaries and what, if any, territory Israel could be expected to retain under the Soviet proposals. Moscow has said nothing on the subject of Jerusalem or on transit rights for Israel through the Suez Canal.
Officials here questioned interpretations of the Soviet position offered in a press conference Monday by Ambassador J. R. Wiggins who is shortly to retire as United States representative to the United Nations. Mr. Wiggins asserted that the Soviet proposals went beyond previous Soviet positions by referring to withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories as a concurrent step, rather than a precondition, in a settlement. He also said that Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister V. S. Semenov, in diplomatic discussions at the United Nations in November, had acknowledged that Israel’s borders prior to June, 1967 were subject to negotiation. Ambassador Wiggins explained the absence of reference in the Soviet proposals to navigation rights for Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal as “a matter of language” which the Russians would be willing to work out.
(The Russian Communist Party organ, Pravda, in a long review of the Middle East situation Monday, said there could be no settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute without the prior withdrawal by Israeli forces of the areas they occupied in the Six-Day War. “The point is that there is no and there can be no peace in the Middle East without the pull-out of the Israeli troops,” Pravda asserted. “The Arabs will never reconcile themselves to the loss of part of their territory as a result of the Israeli attack on them. This just position of the Arab states is undoubtedly backed and will be backed by their sincere friends.”)
Ambassador Wiggins said the Soviet note to the State Department of Dec. 30 called for withdrawal “to the pre-June 6, 1967 lines” but he said that this “does not reflect the Russians’ own thinking.” He said the Dec. 30 note was “better than previous ones” in that it referred to “peace” and envisaged the Israeli withdrawal as part of an overall arrangement. He expressed the belief that the Soviet Union “is almost as worried as we are about the risk of a major explosion” and that, therefore, he doubted that recent Soviet diplomatic activities on the Middle East situation were only undertaken for propaganda purposes. Mr. Wiggins said that there were elements in the Soviet proposals that United Nations special envoy Gunnar V. Jarring should explore. He said the envoy should take the initiative and sound out the Arab states and Israel on the Soviet proposals.
State Department officials, making no attempt to conceal their displeasure over the endorsement given the Soviet proposals by their representative at the UN, likewise made no secret of their feeling that Israel continues to evade possible avenues toward a settlement. They complained that Israel maintains that Moscow categorically insists on prior withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the occupied areas and that Israel refuses to discuss various alternative concepts that have been advanced. But some State Department officials conceded that even if Israel accepted a compromise peace formula, the Palestine Liberation Movement might reject it. It was noted here that this movement has gained in strength and must be considered a factor. Some State Department officials charge that Moscow was seeking a diplomatic victory as an advocate of peace. But they were nevertheless pleased that the Russians are willing to work through the UN, which Washington regards as the proper instrumentality for seeking Middle Eastern peace.
In a related development, David Packard, Deputy Secretary of Defense-designate in the new Nixon Administration, was disclosed today to have told a California newspaper that he considered the Arab-Israel problem the most dangerous facing America and to have criticized the Dec. 28 Israeli reprisal raid on the Beirut Airport. The multimillionaire electronics executive is a controversial appointee because of his personal financial involvement in the defense industry. He was interviewed by the Times of Palo Alto, where his firm has headquarters.
(In Jerusalem today. Foreign Ministry officials declined to comment on the Wiggins press conference and his assertion that the Soviet proposals offered the basis for a settlement. It was pointed out that Israel has completely rejected the Soviet proposals because they do not provide for negotiations on agreed boundaries and for a treaty of peace.)