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Nixon: Kissinger Instructed to Give Highest Priority to Settle Middle East Deadlock

President Nixon announced at a press conference today he had instructed Secretary of State-designate Dr. Henry Kissinger “to put the highest priority” on efforts to settle the Middle East deadlock because of threats by Arab oil-producing nations to pressure for a change in U.S. Mideast policy. It was the first public acknowledgement by the President of those threats and came shortly after Libya announced it was taking over 51 percent of several major American oil companies operating in Libya.

Nixon issued warnings to both the oil-producing Arab states and to Congress on the energy problem and declared he would use his influence to get negotiations started for a settlement. He said that “the problem, as far as the Arab countries are concerned, is linked to the Arab-Israeli dispute” and for that reason he had asked urgent action by Dr. Kissinger, his national security advisor. In recent weeks, there have been repeated statements by leaders of Arab countries of using oil as a pressure to force a change in U.S. policy toward Israel.

ISRAEL, ARABS BOTH AT FAULT

The President said both Israel and the Arab states “are at fault. Both sides need to start negotiations. That is our position. We are not pro-Israel and we are not pro-Arab. We are not more pro-Arab because they have oil and Israel has not. We are pro-peace.” This was the first time he rebuked Israel for lack of progress in the stalled talks with the Arabs.

He said his Administration would use its influence-“what influence we have–with the various Arab states–and with a non-oil state like Egypt–to get those negotiations started.” He said “one of the dividends of getting a successful negotiation will be to reduce the oil pressure.”

The President warned that if Congress did not act on a number of Administration proposals to create needed energy, including use of coal, “we will be at the mercy of the producers of oil in the Middle East.” He added that the United States did not have “much influence” with “radical elements on the ascendancy in the Middle East like Libya” but “we might have some influence” with Saudi Arabia.

ARABIST NAMED ENVOY TO SAUDI ARABIA

It was noted that the President had nominated one of America’s top experts on the oil industry, James Akin, a State Department veteran, to be Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Akin, widely considered a pro-Arabist, has spent most of his foreign service career in Arab countries.

In his warning to the Arab oil producing countries, Nixon said that if they continue to boost the prices of their crude oil and to expropriate oil properties, consumers would find alternate sources of fuel for energy needs and that the Arab countries would lose their markets. He recalled that Mohammed Mossadegh, Premier of Iran in 1951-53, who nationalized foreign oil properties in Iran, “learned that oil without a market is not good.”

The President opened his comments on the energy situation by referring to actions he said the Congress must consider soon. In response to questions he said there had been speculation of Arab threats to use their oil as a pressure tool. He said that for the President to suggest that the United States would relate its policy toward Israel to what happens on Arab oil would be highly inappropriate.

But, he added, “Israel simply cannot wait for the dust to settle and the Arab states cannot wait for the dust to settle in the Middle East.” He added that he had discussed the problem with Dr. Kissinger both before and after he had nominated him to be Secretary of State.

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