GENEVA (Aug. 27)
United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim flew to Damascus today on the first leg of a five-nation Middle East tour he has undertaken at the initiative of Egypt and for which he held out little prospects for any immediate breakthrough to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute.
Dr. Waldheim reviewed the Middle East situation with his special Mideast envoy. Ambassador Gunnar V. Jarring shortly after he arrived here yesterday and met with Dr. Jarring again this morning before taking off for Syria. He told newsmen here that “I do not expect to return with a solution to this very complex, difficult and tragic problem, nor is it my intention to present specific proposals.” Waldheim added that his Mideast visit “does not replace the mission of Ambassador Jarring.”
His less than optimistic assessment of the situation was contained in the introduction to his annual report to the UN General Assembly which was released in New York just before he left, and in remarks to reporters here. He told journalists that he was carrying no specific proposals to present to the government leaders he will meet on his Mideast tour. “The purpose of my visit is to establish direct contacts and consult with the governments concerned,” he said.
The Middle East is the only area the 54-year-old Austrian diplomat has not visited since he became Secretary General in Jan. 1972. His talks in Damascus today will be followed by meetings with Lebanese government leaders in Beirut tomorrow. He will fly to Jerusalem Thursday by way of Cyprus and will go to Cairo on Saturday and will be in Amman next Monday.
Some significance was attached to the fact that the Syrian capital was on Waldheim’s itinerary. Syria is the only one of the belligerents of the 1967 Six-Day War that has refused to accept United Nations Resolution 242 as a basis for a Middle East settlement. During his peace-making efforts between 1969-71, Dr. Jarring was never invited to Damascus. Waldheim’s presence there today was indicative of flexibility on the part of the Syrian regime, some observers thought.
‘TIME IS NOT ON OUR SIDE…’
In his report to the General Assembly which opens its fall session Sept. 18. Waldheim took a sober view of the situation in the Middle East. “Time is not on our side in this highly explosive situation,” he wrote in the 15-page introduction which was a brief survey of the world’s chief trouble spots. “While much can be and is done through the United Nations to reduce tension and prevent escalation, the search for a settlement is crucial and must continue,” the report said.
It continued: “In this search the cooperation of all parties concerned is of decisive importance….The intractable nature of this extremely complex problem lies not only in the deep emotions which it arouses in all the protagonists concerned, but also in the fundamental principles involved–the sanctity of the territorial integrity of the states, the right of every state to be secure within its territorial boundaries and the inalienable right of self-determination of peoples. These principles are of crucial importance in the formulation of any peace agreement.
Waldheim made a formal call on International Red Cross headquarters here before leaving Geneva, leading some sources to believe that he might have been asked by Israel to try to arrange a prisoner-of-war exchange with Egypt.
Officially, Israel welcomes the Waldheim visit although Israeli political circles are highly doubtful that he will succeed in breaking the present impasse. One prominent Israeli took a decidedly negative view of Waldheim’s Journey.
Gen Yitzhak Rabin, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., claimed yesterday that the UN is an anti-Israel organization and “Waldheim does not like us.” He stressed that Waldheim’s visit to the area was at the behest of a hostile state–Egypt.