WASHINGTON (Jan. 22)
Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger said today that the U.S. was not a “guarantor” of the Israeli-Egyptian disengagement agreement he helped work out last week but stated that if there is another outbreak of war in the Middle East the U.S. will be “involved” whether it is engaged in a diplomatic obligation or not. Kissinger, speaking at a press conference at the State Department, his first since returning from his intensive diplomatic rounds in the Middle East, told newsmen that when he was in Damascus Sunday, the Syrians for the first time put forward a concrete suggestion on a phase of negotiations with Israel, that he conveyed it to the Israelis and was promised an answer after next Sunday’s Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. He did not say what the phase was but it is assumed to relate to Israeli prisoners of war.
Referring to his major diplomatic achievement in the Middle East, Kissinger stressed that the U.S. was not formally bound to take any action in the event of a violation of the Israeli-Egyptian disengagement agreement. “In the sense of having a formal obligation of a specific action, in case of a violation of the agreement we are not guarantors,” he said. He added that if there is a new outbreak of war in the region and one side or the other asks for U.S. diplomatic help, “we will follow the course” from where the violation has occurred. Kissinger described the Nixon letters on the limitation of forces which were signed by both Premier Golda Meir of Israel and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as “a device” by the U.S. to convey to each party what the limitations should be and not a U.S. guarantee. He said the U.S. had agreed not to publish the content of that accord at the express request of both sides. But Congressional leaders whom he briefed at the White House yesterday were given a “detailed account of the assurances and unpublished contents,” Kissinger said.
He said his own role in the disengagement negotiations was produced by the fact that both, sides found it easier to communicate through an intermediary and that the Soviet Union had approved of his role because “the U.S. was in a better tactical position to promote progress” as it has relations with both sides and leverage on Israel. Kissinger stressed that the Soviet government gave “strong support” to the results of the disengagement negotiations. He also reiterated his praise for the Soviet role in setting up the Geneva peace conference which he said was useful, constructive and crucial.
Kissinger said that “We have every reason to believe” that the success of the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations on disengagement would lead to an end to the oil embargo. Failure to end it in a “reasonable time” would raise serious questions of confidence with respect to the Arab nations on this issue, he said. Asked about the reopening of the Suez Canal following the separation of forces, the Secretary of State said the U.S. had no overwhelming reason of its own to see the waterway reopened but regarded that event in the general context of peace.
He acknowledged that the Soviet fleet in the Indian Ocean would benefit from the reopening but that there was compensation in the positive step toward peace that the reactivated waterway would represent. Kissinger said that U.S. relations have improved with both Egypt and Syria. He announced that the first result of the improved relations with Syria will be the release tomorrow of an American citizen, John Bates, who was arrested by the Syrians in July, 1972 on charges of espionage.