LONDON (Jan. 16)
A number of countries attending the British Commonwealth conference, which ended here yesterday, complained bitterly about the shutdown of the Suez Canal since the June, 1967 Six-Day War and argued that pressure should be brought to bear on Israel to reopen the waterway. The views were voiced at private meetings of the delegates which were not open to the press. Most African representatives, it was reported, were not hostile to Israel and some of them, particularly Tom Mboya of Kenya, referred to Israel in friendly terms, as did spokesmen for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Pakistan was expectedly hostile as was Zambia, which was less so, while India took no strong position in the private talks.
The British position was described as one of neutrality, expressed in friendly terms by Prime Minister Harold Wilson and in less friendly attitudes by Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart. Observers said the British had learned that UN resolutions, such as the Security Council resolution on the Middle East of November, 1967, were not “holy writ.” The British, it was noted, ignored a UN resolution on Gibraltar. The observers also said that the British, after barring British citizens from Kenya and Uganda, were hardly in a position to advise Israel about the Arab refugees. Generally, it was indicated, the Middle East was not a major topic on the Commonwealth agenda, in either public or private meetings.