WASHINGTON (Mar. 9)
The State Department today continued to take a cautious, non-committal approach to the part of UN Secretary General U Thant’s Middle East progress report last week which criticized Israel for refusing to commit itself to total withdrawal from Sinai. Department spokesman Charles Bray told reporters at today’s news briefing that he could not verify the transcript of yesterday’s briefing by Robert J. McCloskey. McCloskey had said the U.S. endorsed the Thant report generally but refused to say whether it approved the specific call for a response by Israel on the withdrawal question. Bray said he was not questioning the validity of the transcript. A copy of the text, made available to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today, failed to confirm today’s New York Times story which claimed that McCloskey had expressed U.S. endorsement of the full Thant report including its call to Israel to “respond favorably.” Bray refused to comment on the Times story directly. He told newsmen, however, “In present circumstances I will reiterate the doctrine that in ambiguity there is clarity. Let my remarks on the Middle East stand on that today.” The JTA learned today that some State Department sources described the Times report as a “far out interpretation of what McCloskey said, “Following is the verbatim official transcript of the part of yesterday’s news briefing relating to the Thant report. Q. Do we expect Ambassador Jarring to make another set of inquiries or proposals to the parties, and quickly, in order to take advantage of the present non-firing situation in the Middle East? A. I am not sure that we know. Q. Are we in contact with him about it? A. We will be Q. Today? A. I cannot confirm that. Q. Do we support all aspects of the Secretary General’s report to the Security Council on that situation? A. Yes. Our feeling is that the Secretary General brought the matter up to date and included important calls for restraint against firing in the area. Q. He also called for a response from Israel on the questions that had been put to both sides on this thing by Ambassador Jarring. Do we support that as well? A. I would have no comment on that particular point. Q. Is that consistent with your earlier remark that we supported his report in general? Are you excluding this position now? A. No. I am just not saying anything more about it. It has been important for us, I think you understand over a period of time, that we need to be careful about our remarks publicly and officially so that anything we say does not prejudice the positions of the parties who must do the negotiating and that is particularly what I am endeavoring to do.
Bray would not comment today on the reported recent letter from Secretary of State William P. Rogers to Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad assuring Egypt that the U.S. was doing everything it could to persuade Israel to change its position on withdrawal from Sinai. He also refused to comment on a reported message from President Nixon to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Asked if United Nations special envoy Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring was expected to send another message to Israel, he replied, “We are anxious to see the Jarring mission proceed but have no specifics on now it might proceed.” Asked if he saw any evidence of a cooling of U.S. relations with Israel, Bray replied, “Not any that is perceptible to us.” He added, “We continue to do what we appropriately can to promote the possibility of a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.”