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Washington Asks Kremlin for Clarifications, Reportedly Takes No Stand

The United States Government asked the Soviet Union yesterday to clarify its peace plan. Secretary of State Dean Rusk presented a note to Yuri N. Chernyakov, Charge d’affaires of the Russian Embassy. It was a formal reply to the Soviet note of Dec. 30. Observers said the U.S. note neither accepted nor rejected the Soviet plan which some believed was deliberately vague on key points to allow openings for future bargaining. Whatever clarification the Russians choose to provide were expected to be given to the Nixon Administration.

The U.S. note was understood to have raised these questions: Does mention of “freedom of navigation” for Israel in the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba mean that Israel would continue to be barred from the Suez Canal; how can the UN insure that after Israel evacuates occupied Arab territories, the Arabs will deposit documents with the Security Council recognizing Israel’s sovereignty; what specific arrangements does Moscow envisage for prohibiting Arab harassment of Israel?

(Reports in Jerusalem today indicated that the U.S. reply had been discussed with Israeli officials before it was sent. Israel voiced its stand to the White House and State Department after the Soviet note was received in Washington. According to sources here, the U.S. reply incorporated questions similar to those addressed by Israel to Egypt last year through Dr. Jarring. Israel, it was reported, was opposed to “half measures” that might have the appearance of a settlement but would leave the main points of dispute open, thereby perpetuating Arab reliance on the Soviet Union. The U.S. was said to concur with the Israeli view.)

Washington Post correspondent at the UN, Robert H. Estabrook, reported today that Western sources at the UN confirmed that Russia asked the U.S. to bring pressure to bear on Israel. The request was reportedly contained in the hitherto unpublished preamble to the Soviet’s Dec. 30 note. Mr. Estabrook reported that Western diplomats saw no evidence of Soviet inclination to exert pressure on the Arab states.

(In a related development, President Nasser of Egypt has sent a private message to President-elect Nixon raising the question of resuming diplomatic relations between Egypt and the U.S., provided the U.S. follows “a just policy in the Middle East.”)

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