WASHINGTON (Feb. 19)
Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger will go to the Middle East next week to try to establish disengagement talks between Israel and Syria. President Nixon, who made the announcement today to reporters in the presence of Kissinger and the Foreign Minis- ters of Egypt and Saudi Arabia–Ismail Fahmy and Omar Saquaf–with whom he had just concluded a 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office, said Kissinger’s objective was “getting talks started as soon as possible.” He described disengagement talks on the Syrian front as the immediate problem in the Middle East.
State Department spokesman George Vest announced later that Kissinger would leave for the Mideast next Monday. Vest said he would visit Damascus and Jerusalem and other capitals in the region, but did not specify the order of the visits or the other capitals. It was believed that the latter are Cairo, Riyadh and Algiers.
Vest would shed no light on the puzzlement of reporters who recalled that only yesterday Kissinger had indicated he would not visit the Middle East again until some sort of a “framework” developed for Israeli-Syrian disengagement talks. Informed sources here intimated that there may have been some shift in Syria’s attitude toward disengagement which was conveyed to Nixon and Kissinger by Fahmy and Saquaf. But there was no hint of what that shift might be–if it exists at all.
Vest told reporters that Kissinger was “in steady touch” with Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz and was also “in touch” with Soviet officials–but only “in touch.” He said he knew of no consultations with the Russians, indicating that Kissinger was merely keeping them informed of developments.
NO MENTION OF ARAB OIL EMBARGO
Nixon said the talks covered “mutual problems regarding a permanent settlement” in the Middle East and “normal relations, economic and otherwise, with countries of that part of the world.” Neither the President, Kissinger nor the two Arab ministers made any direct allusion to the Arab oil embargo and all four declined to answer reporters’ questions. But Saquaf remarked that “We feel hopeful something will happen soon for the benefit of the U.S. the Middle East and the world as a whole.”
Nixon did not respond when asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reporter if he had “any good news today.” The question was prompted by Fahmy’s affirmative reply when he was asked by a reporter yesterday if he and Saquaf would have “good news” for the President when they met with him. Fahmy and Saquaf said they agreed with Nixon’s summation of their meeting but gave no concrete details. The President indicated that Kissinger’s trip to the Middle East was at the express request of the two Arab foreign ministers who conveyed the wishes of the governments of Syria, Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia on that subject at the Arab meeting in Algiers last week.
Nixon said the Secretary of State will go to the Middle East after his visit to Mexico City this Thursday-Saturday for talks with Latin American foreign ministers. Saquaf, who addressed the President as “my friend,” said the White House meeting was “a very good and constructive discussion” and that “the President summarized everything.” Fahmy said he hoped the Israelis and Syrians would start working on disengagement with the U.S. actively participating as it did on the Egyptian front with success. He said he was “pleased” that “the U.S. will continue to work for a permanent and just peace for the benefit of the countries of the area.”
Fahmy and Saquaf, who arrived in Washington Saturday night from Paris, met with Nixon after a series of meetings with Kissinger over the weekend. As they posed with the President for photographers before starting their meeting they were heard discussing with the President the Islamic summit meeting to open Friday in Lahore, Pakistan. The foreign ministers of 30 Islamic countries arrived in Lahore today to prepare an agenda for the meeting which reportedly includes “the liberation of Jerusalem” and support for the Palestinians. It is not known whether there was any further discussion of the Lahore meeting between Nixon and the Arab ministers today. (By Joseph Polakoff)