WASHINGTON (Aug. 16)
Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird said today that the United States would offer “protection” to both sides during the 90-day cease-fire in the Middle East. He said, however, that it was “very difficult to prove or disprove” Israel’s charges that Egypt violated the cease-fire by moving Russian-made SAM missiles into the prohibited zone hours after it went into effect. Mr. Laird appeared on “Issues and Answers,” an ABC television network program. His offer of “protection” implied that the U.S. was maintaining surveillance of both sides in the cease-fire. He said the U.S. was studying the situation, “very carefully and very thoroughly.” Mr. Laird hinted that the Administration was impatient with Israel’s charges. He said it would serve “no useful purpose to have a public debate on what went on 12 hours before or 12 hours after” the cease-fire began.
A few minutes later Mr. Laird made the statement that it was difficult to prove missile movements “up to 18 hours either side of the cease-fire.” He insisted that the United States possessed the “best means of verification.” Asked if U.S. intelligence was better than Israeli intelligence. Mr. Laird replied, “Our intelligence is better.” He refused to comment on reports that high altitude U-2 planes were carrying out aerial reconnaissance over the cease-fire zone. Asked if the Soviet Union was performing reconnaissance in the region, he replied, we must “assume” they are. Mr. Laird insisted that the “important thing is for us to move forward” with negotiations. “We need to get on now with the business of a settlement in the Middle East,” he said. Asked if the U.S. is sending more jets to Israel, he said the U.S. will “continue to maintain the proper balance in the Mideast,” adding, on that “we have made our position clear.”