UNITED NATIONS (Feb. 10)
Secretary General Kurt Waldhaim appeared to modify today his earlier contention that an interim Suez Canal agreement had little if any chance of achievement and that efforts should be concentrated on an overall Middle East settlement through the Jarring mission. “Both efforts are complementary, in my opinion,” he told dozens of correspondents at his first formal press conference here since taking office Jan. 1.
Following today’s 40-minute press conference, Waldheim assured the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he had not changed his position. Both an interim solution and an overall solution will be difficult to achieve, he explained, but that is no reason to abandon all efforts toward a canal pact. “I welcome anything that helps us make some progress in this field,” he told the JTA.
At the press conference, Waldheim described the Mideast situation as “very difficult.” He sidestepped a question about whether he considered Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring’s memorandum of Feb. 8, 1971, which emphasizes Israeli withdrawal, to be the basis for negotiations between the parties, saying only that it was “our duty to proceed on a sound basis.” The Secretary General said he would report to the General Assembly on the Mideast “at the appropriate time.” Noting that Dr. Jarring was “keeping contact” with the African leaders, he asserted: “I am very much interested in continuing Jarring’s mission. He has my full confidence.”
CHANGE OF VIEW ON CANAL AGREEMENT
On another issue, Waldheim indicated that he would not speak out publicly on behalf of Jews’ right to emigrate from the Soviet Union. “My distinguished predecessor was helpful in this respect through quiet diplomacy, quiet contacts,” he said in a one-sentence reply to a JTA question, “and I see no reason why I should not continue this policy.”
American officials told the JTA later that they considered that Waldheim had “quite obviously, quite clearly” changed his attitude toward a canal agreement since Monday. Asked if representatives of the Nixon administration had spoken with Waldheim between Monday and this morning, to press the case for the US-initiated interim attempt, the American officials said they did not know for sure, but that Deputy Ambassador Christopher H. Phillips had conferred with the Secretary General yesterday. Phillips could not be reached immediately for comment.
But a spokesman for Phillips, while claiming no knowledge of any plea to Waldheim by Phillips, averred to the JTA that “You can assume that they covered the waterfront.” In that context, he added, it was “very logical to assume” that the American interest in an interim pact–which is an American initiative–was discussed.