WASHINGTON (Aug. 5)
State Department sources said this morning that “every indication at this moment” is that Assistant Secretary of State Joseph J. Sisco will return from Israel to Washington this weekend without going to any other country. They added that it is always possible for authorities to “change his direction.” But they said that the present view was that Sisco would come here for the Department to “take stock” of his consultations over the past two weeks in Israel, where he has been seeking agreement on an interim Mideast peace settlement. The sources did not rule out the possibility that he might visit Egypt soon afterwards. They said this schedule also applies to Deputy Assistant Secretary Alfred R. Atherton, who is with Sisco. The State Department sources’ comments followed an indication yesterday by President Nixon that Sisco may visit another Middle Eastern country after leaving Israel. Speaking about Soviet-American relations at a news conference. Nixon included the Middle East as one of three areas in which the U.S. Is negotiating with the Soviet Union. Nixon said: “With regard to the Soviets, I should also point out that we are making very significant progress on Berlin. We are making good progress on SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks).Discussions are still continuing on the Mideast, although there I will not speculate about what the prospects for success are in view of the fact that Mr. Sisco is presently in the area exploring with the governments concerned what the possibilities of some interim settlement looking toward a final settlement may be.”
White House sources declined to expand on the comment and referred inquirer a to the State Department. But the State Department spokesman. Robert J. McCloskey, sidestepped the issue today by stating that he could not discuss the present status of Soviet-American negotiations on the Middle East. He said that “from time to time” there have been communications between the two nations regarding an interim settlement involving the Suez. But he added that he could not say “offhand” when the last contact was. He also declined to discuss whether the Soviet Union has become an active member in the diplomatic efforts for an interim settlement. And he would not reveal the level of contacts with Soviet officials of the starting dates of those contacts. He said that the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Jacob Beam and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko met shortly after Beam’s return to the Soviet capital from the U.S. ten days ago. Soviet Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Dobrynin is scheduled to leave Washington tomorrow for Moscow, but there was no indication that his trip specifically involved the Middle East.