Sisco Voices Hope That Thant Will Not Withdraw UN Observers from Suez Cease-fire Line

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joseph Sisco referred to the Middle East as a “high risk” area but said he hoped Secretary-General U Thant would not withdraw the 90-95 unarmed United Nations cease-fire observers from the Suez Canal. Mr. Sisco spoke in reply to questions on the NBC television “Today” show on the eve of his departure for Moscow where he will resume bilateral talks with Soviet officials on a solution to the Mideast conflict.

Mr. Thant said in a report to the Security Council yesterday that “open warfare” is once again raging in the Suez and that he might have to withdraw the observers from seven countries, because they are “defenseless targets in a shooting gallery.” Mr. Sisco said that the observers were performing a very useful job of reporting incidents and he hoped they would remain.

Mr. Thant emphasized the increased firings on the observers, coming particularly from the Egyptian side, and said that they demonstrated the prevailing disregard for the cease-fire established by the Security Council in June, 1967. Mr. Thant also appealed to “all the parties alike” to honor the cease fire resolution and urged all UN members to exert every effort toward promoting peace. “This is in the vital interest of the whole world,” he declared. Two of the observers have been injured, Mr. Thant noted in his report which said they are continuously exposed to steadily increasing cross-fire. (Israel Foreign Ministry sources responded by suggesting that Mr. Thant direct his warning of possible war along the canal to Egypt.)

Mr. Sisco’s visit to Moscow was described by the State Department as a “brief round” in the bilateral U.S.-Soviet talks on the Middle East after which the talks would revert to Washington. The diplomat will stop off at London and Paris en route to the Soviet capital. He said on the “Today” show that “some progress” had emerged from his previous talks here with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin but that there was “a long way to go” before the gap was narrowed. He said the U.S. and Russia hoped to come closer together on the Mideast so that direct talks could be held by the parties directly concerned.

(Premier Golda Meir said in the Knesset today that from Israel’s point of view, the only satisfactory aspect of Mr. Sisco’s Moscow visit is that it will be a short one. She welcomed Washington’s announcement that it had no intention of transferring the bilateral consultations permanently. Mrs. Meir said Israel was especially disturbed by the prospect of talks in Moscow because there is no Israeli diplomatic representation in the Soviet capital and Israel would be completely isolated from developments.)

(The British Foreign Office today expressed agreement with Mr. Thant’s grim assessment. It issued a statement saying, “U Thant’s warning confirms our impression that there has been a deplorable increase in incidents along the cease-fire lines with the consequent danger of escalation. This points out still again the urgent need for a settlement and for restraint by both sides.”)

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