Behind the Headlines Waldheim and the Middle East
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Behind the Headlines Waldheim and the Middle East

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The long awaited decision from United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim on his intended visit to the Middle East in search of a negotiating process in the Arab-Israeli conflict now must await the results of the Security Council’s review of the area’s situation and more importantly, the proposed federation of Egypt and Libya due Sept. 1.

Qualified American sources here in arriving at this conclusion, describe both the Council’s review, which tentatively is to be resumed July 16 in New York, and the merger as so clouded by uncertainties that they would not even speculate on the outcome of either.

The Waldheim trip idea has been revived in the past fortnight in diplomatic circles, mostly in New York, in the wake of the 89-word passage in the approximately 3500-word communique issued in San Clemente at the conclusion of the Nixon-Brezhnev talks. The communique expressed “deep concern” about the Middle East but gave no hints on the road the super-powers would follow.

In a negative sense, however, diplomats read a great deal in it since the passage indicated that Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev and President Nixon were continuing their understanding of avoiding a confrontation in the Middle East, but that they were not in agreement on how to solve the dispute The passage did not even mention Security Council Resolution 242 which has formed the basis for most of the serious discussion on a settlement, nor Swedish Ambassador Gunnar V. Jarring, who, as the UN special representative, has made no progress in bringing the Middle East parties closer together.


Last Jan., former Austrian diplomat Waldheim said he possibly would visit the area but he would first see what developments might occur. But there has been no major activity, neither publicly nor behind the scenes, American sources say. With little happening, the talk was revived for Waldheim to see the area for himself. The U.S. is pictured as not having any objection to Waldheim’s trip but it is dubious as to whether it would bring any favorable results.

This outlook in Washington is based on the continuing failure of Egypt to make clear what it seeks to accomplish in the Security Council review it has demanded and on the problems Anwar Sadat has with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi who has just spent 17 days in Egypt. “It is far from certain whether the Libyan-Egyptian merger will go through,” one analyst of the situation remarked. He pointed out that the Egyptians are saying Egypt must appear as if it is approving a federation “but a real merger it won’t be.”

A merger of any kind, he felt, would bring “a temporarily disruptive influence” by Qaddafi on the U.S. initiative to effect an interim agreement to reopen the Suez Canal. Ultimately, however, Egypt’s points of view “certainly will predominate.” In this light. the U.S. initiative would be stalled for months to come but it might bring Waldheim into the area to keep some momentum going for a negotiating process.

The Arabs seem angry at the Soviet government over the communique rather than at the United States. Egyptian newspapers say that the Soviet has taken a “soft” line–that is it is refusing to force Israel out of the occupied territories–while the U.S. has been improving Israel’s armor. This jeopardizes the Security Council’s review, the Cairo media feel. But this line is considered here as a possible way out for Egypt should the review collapse.

In Washington, and presumably in other capitals, Soviet officials say that Soviet-American collaboration to reduce international tensions ultimately will cause the Americans to pressure Israel into making concessions. Thus the Middle East for the time being is no less complex than before the Nixon-Brezhnev summit and gives no promise of being less so for the rest of this summer whether or not Waldheim visits the area before the UN General Assembly meets again in Sept.

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