Big Four Power Representatives Schedule Resumption of Talks on Middle East
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Big Four Power Representatives Schedule Resumption of Talks on Middle East

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Representatives of the Four Powers were scheduled to resume their talks on the Middle East situation today despite the airing of a fundamental disagreement between the Soviet Union and the United States which could be bridged only if one side or the other abandoned its professed position on the role and function of the intervening powers. Lord Caradon was expected to offer a new British “suggestion” at today’s meeting.

The Soviet Union made it clear in its note of December 23, made available to some correspondents in Washington yesterday by the State Department, that it was firmly committed to the proposition that it was up to the Four Powers to determine the nature of the settlement and impose it on Israel and the Arab states. The professed American position has been that the Four Powers should agree on guidelines of a settlement which would be negotiated by the conflicting states with the mediation of Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring, the United Nations special envoy for the Middle East.

But Israel has complained that while the United States has been stating that the peace settlement must be reached by negotiations between the Middle East states involved, the United States has, in fact, been making proposals for settlement which spell out all the conditions except minor details and thus, in effect, would blueprint the settlement which Israel and the Arab states would be required to accept.

(In Washington today, Robert J.McCloskey, State Department spokesman, said the United States “was soundly disappointed” by the Russian note. He termed it a serious setback to the cause of peace in the Middle East and represented a “negative and retrogressive” attitude. McCloskey said the Russian position could only serve delaying the return of UN special Middle East envoy Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring to his mission.)

The Soviet note made it clear that the only areas of agreement which had been reached between the Soviet and American positions were those in which the Americans yielded on issues of principle and moved toward the Soviet position. The Soviet note rejected application of the “Rhodes formula” for Arab-Israeli talks, called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories to be completed before “de jure cessation of the state of war.” rejected the concept of any role for Israel in determining the disposition of the Gaza Strip, affirmed the principle of freedom of navigation of the Suez Canal “for the vessels of all countries in accordance with the Constantinople Convention of 1888 now in effect” and said that questions of navigation of the Strait of Tiran and Gulf of Akaba “must be considered and solved in conformity with generally recognized principles of international law which will guarantee to a sufficient degree free passage for the vessels of all countries through these waterways.”

The Soviet note made it clear that the Soviet insistence on a “package deal” conforming to the Nov. 22, 1967 resolution of the United Nations Security Council barred peace between Israel and any one of the belligerent Arab states until peace with all could be achieved.

But the crux of the Soviet position was that the Four Powers had to lay down a complete peace program with only minor details to be discussed between Israel and the Arabs. Moscow rejected the concept of a Soviet-American agreement on “neutral formulas” for Dr. Jarring to submit to the belligerents. The Russians argued that this “in effect, (would) shift the main emphasis, in working out an agreement on basic aspects of the settlement, over to contacts between the parties through Ambassador Jarring.”

The Russians argued that “such an approach is especially unwarranted under the present circumstances when the situation in the Middle East has sharply deteriorated in view of the delay of the settlement, because of Israel.” It added that “as we understand it, the objective of a joint Soviet-American document should be as far as possible a sufficiently detailed elaboration of the essence of the fundamental aspects of the Middle East settlement. Also, it would hardly make sense to negate the work already done, aimed at working out agreed positions of our countries by following the United States proposal to limit ourselves to ‘neutral formulas’ alone.”

The Soviet note rejected the proposals contained in the American note of October 28 – the text of which the State Department has not yet released but is expected to do so soon. Moscow characterized this note as “one-sided” and “pro-Israel” and charged that it actually represented a withdrawal from positions previously taken by the United States, notably on the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories conditions of which Washington had spelled out in earlier proposals. The Russians, however, called for “further active efforts on the part of the big powers – permanent members of the Security Council – within the framework of bilateral and four power contacts for the purpose of finding mutually acceptable ways of a Middle East settlement.” The UN ambassadors of the Four Powers, meeting this afternoon at the home of Lord Caradon of Britain, were scheduled to review the work of their deputies at a meeting last week.

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