WASHINGTON (Jul. 12)
Assistant Secretary of State Joseph J. Sisco acknowledged today that the “heavy” Soviet involvement in the Middle East has “affected the balance” In that region and declared that “the United States is resolved to do anything necessary” to preserve it. Mr. Sisco, who heads the State Department’s Near East and South Asia division, made his remarks on the NBC television program, “Meet the Press.” “The heavy Soviet involvement has injected a new qualitative factor,” he said. He declined to say whether the U.S. will provide Israel with the additional combat Jets it has requested or to comment on a Newsweek report that additional planes have already been sold. Mr. Sisco referred to President Richard M. Nixon’s pledge of July I to preserve Israel’s deterrent strength and told the newsmen, “Just take President Nixon’s statement at face value.” The Assistant Secretary agreed that grave dangers were present in the Mideast. He said the U.S. was relying “on a very Important diplomatic initiative,” a reference to Secretary of State William P. Rogers’ proposals. “We are anxious for a political solution. We want to reduce Soviet influence in the area,” he said. He estimated Soviet strength in Egypt at 8-10.000 men and reported “a recent substantial Increase in ship off-loadings and plane landings” in that country. He said the Russians appeared to be sending amphibious equipment to Egypt and remarked that “it doesn’t look like defensive equipment to me.” Mr. Sisco said the Russians have rejected every offer to limit arms shipments to the Mideast. He said If Secretary Rogers’ latest initiative failed, it would be “another lost opportunity.”
Two U.S. Senators, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agreed in separate interviews today that the Middle East was far more important to the United States than Vietnam and constituted a graver threat to the free world. Sen. Jacob K. Javits, New York Republican spoke on the NBC television program Searchlight, and Sen. Stuart Symington, Missouri Democrat, spoke on the CBS television program Face the Nation. Sen. Javits said the Middle East crisis has “infinitely greater urgency for the United States” than the situation in Vietnam. “The fundamental interest and indeed the future of the entire free world” depends on the outcome of the Mideast conflict, he said and “we’re not going to let it go down the drain.” Sen. Javits said he did not think Israel would launch a preemptive strike at Soviet missile bases across the Suez Canal, adding, “I hope they don’t.”
Sen. Symington called the Mideast situation “infinitely more serious” and “more important to the U.S. than Vietnam.” He said Soviet success in that region would make it the dominant factor in the Mideast and “the whole concept of NATO would fall on its face.” He warned that the failure to sell more Jets to Israel “would guarantee Israel’s destruction.” He said he didn’t think the U.S. had a secret agreement to supply more jets to Israel. Sources in Washington reported over the week-end that the Defense Department has warned the Nixon Administration against military involvement in the Mideast. According to the sources, the Defense Department recognizes that the U.S. possesses no immediate military means of intervening except the Sixth Fleet, but use of the fleet in the Mideast struggle would not have the backing of America’s NATO allies. The Sixth Fleet presently is said to number 40 ships, two aircraft earners and a total of 153 planes. American naval doctrine calls for the dispatch of one or two additional carriers to crisis areas, but since this has not been done in the Mediterranean, the indications are that there is no serious consideration of employing U.S. military power in that area, the sources said.