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U.S. Takes Three-way Initiative to Defuse Mideast Crisis; Nixon to Announce Jet Sale

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The United States has embarked on a three-way initiative to defuse the Middle-East crisis which President Nixon believes has neared the point of explosion. According to sources here the President has already decided to make a direct approach to Egypt, probably in the form of a letter to President Gamal Abdel Nasser, urging him to open indirect negotiations with Israel, probably under the auspices of United Nations peace envoy, Ambassador Gunnar V. Jarring. The U.S. is also entering into a new phase of hard bargaining with Soviet Russia, after the President’s warning to Moscow last February that “the United States would view any effort by the Soviet Union to seek predominance in the Middle East as a matter of grave concern.” According to officials here, that warning, stripped of its diplomatic verbiage, means that the U.S. is prepared to invoke its military power should the Russians make further moves to take over an area that was once a sphere of Western influence. President Nixon is also reportedly prepared to announce next week his agreement to sell a limited number of combat warplanes to Israel to offset that nation’s combat losses and, to some extent, a certain percentage of gradual obsolescence. The Nixon administration is thus attempting to demonstrate its “restraint” to the Arab world and to convince the Soviet Union not to escalate the Mideast arms race.

President Nixon reportedly assured Foreign Minister Ahmed Laraki of Morocco who visited the White House last week that the Israeli plane deal would involve very few aircraft at this time. Undersecretary of State Elliot Richardson reportedly gave the same assurances to the Ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan last Friday. Observers here said that Mr. Nixon would be taking a political risk by giving Israel far fewer planes than it claims it needs. Last week 76 U.S. Senators, more than two-thirds of the Senate, urged the administration to give Israel the full number of Jets it requests. The Senators’ letter to Secretary of State William P. Rogers was reportedly welcomed at the White House because it shows the Soviet Union that the President is taking a moderate position by comparison to the Senate’s. Secretary Rogers and other administration officials believe that despite the worsening Mideast crisis, the time is propitious for a new diplomatic initiative to bring about peace talks. They reason that Israel recognizes that the tide of war is slowly turning against it. Although it retains military superiority over the Arabs, it is surrounded by hostile states with much greater populations and its casualties are mounting.

Mr. Rogers and his foreign policy planners professed to see a note of moderation in Premier Golda Meir’s most recent foreign policy speech in the Knesset. She acknowledged Israel’s acceptance of the United Nations Security Council’s Nov. 22,1967 resolution which called for withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied Arab territories in return for peace undertakings by the Arabs. She also appeared to accept something less than direct negotiations with the Arabs when she indicated that Israel would accept talks along the lines of the 1949 armistice negotiations at Rhodes. But the U.S. Is reportedly trying to elicit from Israel a more direct statement that it accepts the principle of withdrawal and a retreat from its previous insistance that only face-to-face talks with the Arabs can bring peace. On the Arab side, U.S. officials believe that Egypt and some other Arab countries may be seriously concerned over the increasing Soviet military presence in their area and the growing influence of Moscow which could jeopardize their own sovereignty. Administration officials are said to recognize that the key to Mideast peace lies in Moscow. They acknowledge that Soviet bargaining power is the equal of America’s and that the Russians must be met half way on all issues, except an overt attempt to establish itself as the predominant power in the Mideast. Bargaining has already started in a series of private talks between officials here and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin. As a first step, the U.S. has reportedly asked Moscow not to extend the actions of Soviet pilots beyond the defense of central Egypt from Israeli air attacks.

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