Laird Asserts U.S. Will Maintain Strategic and Military Balance in the Middle East

Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird asserted today that “We are going to maintain a strategic and military balance” in the Middle East, adding: “We have said we would and we will deliver.” Secretary Laird’s statement, made at a press conference, was not as strong as President Nixon’s on July 1, that the U.S. will “do what is necessary to maintain Israel’s strength” and “deter its neighbors from attacking.” But it was stronger than Secretary of State William P. Rogers’ June 25 statement that “for the moment the emphasis should be on diplomatic initiatives.” The Nixon and Laird remarks, made in succession within two weeks of Mr. Rogers’ news conference, appeared to corroborate reports that the administration considers Mr. Rogers’ comments too restrained in view of the growing Soviet threat in the Mideast. Secretary Laird reiterated the administration position that the U.S. has no plans to send troops to Israel’s aid. But he noted that the American Sixth Fleet was “in a good state of readiness” in the Mediterranean.

Mr. Laird today officially confirmed Israeli reports of SAM-3 activity in the Mideast. He included them in a reference in which he said the Soviets in that area “have gone forward with new anti-aircraft missiles.” (On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Carl E. Bartch would say only that Washington had “no reason to doubt the substance” of the Israeli claim.) Mr. Bartch said today that no date has been set for the hurry-up meeting in Moscow between U.S. Ambassador Jacob D. Beam and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko, which he said yesterday would take place soon. Mr. Bartch said there was also no specific date yet for the next meeting here between Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin and Joseph J. Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. But he said that Mr. Sisco would confer this afternoon on the Mideast situation with Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin. Mr. Bartch declined comment on Cairo’s claim that Egypt has shot down five U.S.-built Phantom jets manned by Israeli pilots in recent days.

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