State Dept. Tells Inquiring Congressmen There is No Change in Mideast Policy

Members of Congress disclosed today that they have been receiving a barrage of mail and telegrams from constituents protesting the alleged erosion of United States policy toward Israel and a Middle East settlement. When they ask for clarification from the State Department, these Congressmen are told that there has been no shift in U.S. policy toward Israel, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned today.

Inquiries at the White House and the State Department have elicited Administration responses which ranged from insistence that there is no change to hints that there may be differences between President Richard M. Nixon and Secretary of State William P. Rogers, these Congressmen say. But one highly placed Congressional source said that key administration leaders were told at a White House briefing that the U.S. is taking steps to assure that it does not become embroiled in a Mideast war as Israel’s partner which could lead to a confrontation with the Soviet Union.

Rep. Seymour Halpern, a New York Republican who wrote to Secretary of State Rogers for a clarification of his Dec. 9 speech on the Mideast, said the reply he received was “an obvious evasion of the erosion of the U.S. position on Israel.” The reply was written by H.G. Torbert, Jr., acting Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations. Mr. Torbert claimed that the Israel Government itself “recognized” that no change of U.S. attitude had occurred. He cited an interview on Dec. 3 in which he said Foreign Minister Abba Eban of Israel acknowledged that the latest American proposals on the territorial issue did not differ from the American position held since the June, 1967 war.

LETTER IGNORED SECRETARY ROGERS’ SUBSEQUENT STATEMENT

Mr. Torbert’s letter ignored Secretary Rogers’ subsequent statement which alarmed Israel. According to Mr. Torbert U.S. policy continues to be based on the Security Council’s Nov. 22, 1967 Mideast resolution which calls for a just and lasting peace and rejects the acquisition of territory by force of arms. The resolution envisions Israel’s eventual withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories but, Mr. Torbert wrote, the U.S. continues to “stand firmly on the position that Israel should not be expected to withdraw its forces from any occupied territory except in the context of peace and security based on mutually binding commitments agreed upon between it and its neighbors.”

In response to Rep Halpern’s request for clarification of Mr. Rogers’ Dec. 9 remarks on Jerusalem and the Arab refugees, Mr. Torbert alleged that press accounts had been “misleading.” He said “The Secretary did not propose how Jerusalem should be governed or accord any special status to the Palestinian Arabs or offer any comfort to terrorist acts.”

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