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State Dep’t. Implies Switch on PLO

The U.S. government today implied a switch in its approach to a Middle East peace settlement and hinted it would accept the Palestine Liberation Organization as a participant in future negotiations. Following up President Ford’s remark yesterday that equated Jordan and the PLO on the same level in the American effort for a settlement, the State Department took the unusual step of issuing a written statement to explain the President’s remark.

An official transcript of the President’s news conference showed that he said, “We, of course, feel that there must be movement toward settlement of the problems between Israel and Egypt, on the one hand, between Israel and Jordan or the PLO, and the problems between Israel and Syria, in the other category.” Ford made that comment in saying his Administration had not yet had the opportunity to make any firm decision on the impact of the Rabat conference action on the PLO’s status.

WHITE HOUSE SAYS NO CHANGE INVOLVED

Presidential press secretary Ron Nessen said that Ford’s statement on the PLO “does not represent any change in American policy. After a reporter pointed out that this marked the first time the President had referred to the PLO in that context, Nessen responded that the reports Ford had received were “preliminary and Incomplete” and that the President, therefore, could not make “any conclusions.”

When Nessen was asked whether he was with-drawing the President’s “or PLO” remark, Nessen said he was not withdrawing anything the President said. Nessen pointed out that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger had said the U.S. policy remains the same. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked whether the President, in equating Jordan with the PLO, had not inadvertently revealed a change in U.S. tactics. If not policy. It was at that point that Nessen suggest that newsmen talk to the State Department and match their comments with the President’s statement. The State Department’s unusual written statement followed.

STEP BY STEP TALKS FAVORED

“Our position has not changed.” the Department said as did the White House an hour earlier. It reiterated the President’s statement that the Administration has not yet made “any firm decision” on the “impact” of the Arab summit conference’s decision Monday In Rabat that the PLO and not Jordan will represent the Palestinians in territory held by Israel.

In Its statement, the Department significantly spoke in the past tense in relating its movement towards a settlement. “It has been our judgment that step-by-step negotiations, including between Jordan and Israel on the West Bank offered the greatest hope of success at the present time,” the statement said. “But it should be recalled that our objective has always been to help bring about an overall settlement on the basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, not a separate settlement or settlements.”

The Department statement added: “The only question has been how best to proceed in order to reach this objective, given the position of those involved in the negotiations. This is still the question. We will continue to seek the answer and to use our best efforts to get negotiations started on that basis.” The statement did not mention the PLO.

KISSINGER’S MIDEAST VISIT STILL ON

In its statement, the Department said Kissinger “is still considering a visit to the Middle East” in the near future. Before leaving on his current two week trip that started In Moscow, Kissinger had virtually scheduled a visit for further discussions with Israel and the Arab states on the next step in the negotiations he has initiated.

In Dacca, where he stopped on his visit to Bangladesh. Kissinger said yesterday he would decide in the next 72 hours whether he would make the Middle East trip after the Rabat decision was announced. “His talks with Arab and Israeli leaders would provide a clearer picture of what was decided at Rabat and of the best means for pursuing negotiations,” the State Department’s latest statement said.

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