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Rogers in the Un: from Initiative to Appeasement

The speech by Secretary of State William P. Rogers at the General Assembly last week dispelled all the myths carefully nurtured by the administration that it was pursuing an “even handed” policy through “quiet diplomacy” as an “honest broker” and “middleman” in efforts to help achieve an interim settlement in the Middle East. The rhetoric, pretensions and prevarications of the administration’s Mideast policy were laid to rest with Rogers’ statement that there are “possibilities for compromise” on the question of an Egyptian military presence east of the Suez Canal. With this statement, Rogers ended any illusions-if there were any previously-that American interests in the Mideast are fundamentally, and in the long run, to aid Israel’s survival.

While his compromise statement was hardly unexpected in view of recent developments, it revealed with razor sharpness that the peace initiative had evolved into a policy of appeasing Egypt. Rogers’ statement cause unconcealed elation among the Egyptian delegates in the General Assembly. Mahmoud Riad, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, took the American’s appeasement cue seriously, for in his speech two days later in the Assembly. Riad made only a passing reference to the US policy in the Middle East, describing it as “frustrating” the cause of peace. Even this was primarily for show. Riad in that speech, also emphasized that Egypt would not press for an Assembly debate on the Mideast, ostensibly to give the US more time to work on its efforts to help arrive at an interim agreement.

Last Friday, two days after Riad’s Assembly address and four days after Rogers’, the two officials met in New York. A most unusual episode followed their 75-minute meeting. State Department spokesman Robert McCloskey read a formal statement which described the meeting as a “good and useful discussion in depth on the possibility of an interim agreement which would lead toward a final peace settlement.” The statement was unusual because it represented a departure from the Department’s routine reaction during similar sensitive talks with Israelis that it would issue no statements in order to assure quiet diplomacy. This meeting was also in sharp contrast to the one several days earlier between Rogers and Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban.

US-USSR CO-EXISTENCE AND CO-EXTENSION

There was no public statement by McCloskey then. But it was reported that when Eban pressed Rogers for an answer as to whether or not the US would sell Israel more planes, the Secretary of State noted that this request was still under study. In diplomatic language it meant “no.” Riad emerged smiling from his meeting with Rogers and agreed that “we hope these talks will be fruitful and bring peace in the area.” The smile on Riad’s face was not unwarrented. Egypt had been reassured publicly by Rogers during his Assembly statement and again apparently during their private meeting. At the moment, Egypt could not ask for more.

It is to Egypt’s advantage to let the US bring up its heavy diplomatic artillery to convince Israel that an Egyptian military crossover is a small price to pay if it expects any further US aid. Egypt can now move in for the diplomatic kill within the Assembly. What is behind the hardening line of the US toward Israel? A number of interweaving factors in the tangled skein of international diplomacy in which the US and the Soviet Union are now antagonist and now friends in their mutual strivings for co-existence and co-extension of their respective spheres of influence. The US, especially, is currently involved in a global strategy to assert itself in areas where its influence has been nil, as in the Peoples Republic of China; or waning, as in Japan; or lean and hungry, as in Egypt and the North African nations.

The USSR, for its part, in an effort to diminish China’s role in Asia and the Middle East, is not averse to a diplomatic deal with the US in the Mideast to take a monkey off its back in terms of its overextended commitments and entanglements with the Arab-African nations. The US and USSR can mutually benefit by the presence of both in this area. Neither would like to see the other totally absent from the Middle East scene. Containment, rather than elimination, is the objective each has despite the anti-imperialist tirades by the USSR against the US, and the ballyhoo of ending Communist domination mounted by the US. Sharing the sphere of influence is less costly to both in the long run.

ISRAEL NEEDS FRIENDS

The US does not want the burden of being overseer in the Mideast and the USSR does not want to be sole provider for the cantankerous and disunited Arab states. The USSR has been humiliated by the purges of the Communist parties and the US has felt the cold squeeze of Arab boycott-real and threatened. At the moment, the US has most to gain from this game of diplomatic shuffleboard. The administration is under growing pressure within this country from oil and natural gas interests and from Arabists in the State Department to regain the foothold it lost in Egypt after the Six-Day War. To that end, Rogers’ Assembly statement provided the good grammar, if not the good taste, for this objective.

Even before Rogers’ speech, US efforts to integrate itself with the regime in Cairo became known in Washington. Donald C. Bergus, America’s unofficial ambassador to Egypt, is going to retire. His replacement, according to all indications, is Michael Sterner, known among diplomats in Washington as a hard-line Arabist “in tune with the Arab bloc.” Among other qualifications, Sterner is also a close friend of Egyptian President Sadat. The growing togetherness of the US and USSR in the international diplomatic arena and America’s concommitant coldness toward Israel was displayed during the Security Council debate on Jerusalem. George Bush, the US Ambassador to the UN, maintained a stark silence while Soviet Ambassador Yakov Malik unleashed a venomous anti-Semitic attack against Israel’s Ambassador Yosef Tekoah that made even some of Israel’s more outspoken critics blanch.

Throughout all this, Israel becomes expendable to the US. Unlike the Arab and North African states, Israel has nothing to offer the US-neither a sphere for capital investment nor territory for US military bases. Israel is, therefore, a negotiable entity so far as the US is concerned. Its only value, so far as some American diplomats are concerned, is to exist as the object of attack by terrorists and hatred by Arabs. This, as some diplomats reason, sublimates any effort to expropriate US oil interests in the Middle East. But sublimation is a temporary phenomenon. The US needs overtly friendly nations to assure its present and future investments. For this, appeasement of Arab governments is essential. With friends like the US, Israel needs friends.

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