WASHINGTON (Feb. 19)
White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler refused today to answer reporters’ follow-up questions on President Nixon’s meeting with Ismail Fahmy and Omar Saquaf, the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Ziegler said he had been instructed by Nixon, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and the other participants in the meeting–meaning the Arabs–to add nothing to the President’s statement after the meeting.
The reporters had wanted to know specifically whether the Arab oil embargo and the upcoming Islamic summit meeting in Lahore, Pakistan had been discussed at today’s meeting in the Oval Office. They also wanted to know if the two Arab ministers had brought Nixon the “good news” that Fahmy intimated yesterday they had for the President. Nixon, Kissinger and the two Arabs ignored those questions when they appeared before reporters after their meeting.
Saquaf meanwhile held a closely guarded press conference at the Shoreham Hotel this afternoon, restricted to a handful of journalists selected by the Saudi Arabian Embassy. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency was informed later by one of the journalists present that Saquaf had claimed that the oil embargo was not mentioned at the Nixon meeting.
He also reportedly said that the key to lifting the embargo lay, in a way, with Syrian-Israeli disengagement talks. The Saudian minister reportedly said that the Arabs made no conditions for ending the embargo but had made a series of recommendations. One of these was that the U.S. should share the $2.2 billion allocated to help Israel with the Arabs, who he said, were suffering more.
According to JTA’s informant, that remark was greeted with undisguised amusement by the reporters in light of the tens of billions of dollars in profits enjoyed by the Arab oil producers because of the rise in oil prices. Saquaf also reportedly said the U.S. should act justly and fairly, help those who suffer and remain neutral and without prejudice in the Middle East. He reportedly mentioned that the Arab oil ministers will meet in 2-3 weeks to make decisions but did not say if they would be related to the oil embargo.