WASHINGTON (Dec. 17)
Undersecretary of State Joseph J. Sisco said last night that he would not take “seriously” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy’s latest statement and called for a “cease-fire on this kind of propaganda statement.” He also declared that the United States does not intend to negotiate with the PLO and is not “pressuring Israel to negotiate with the PLO.” He defended America’s step-by-step diplomacy as “the only practicable approach” to a final peace settlement in the Mideast.
Sisco, who is Undersecretary for Political Affairs, addressed a meeting of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Foundation at the Jewish Community Center here. He referred at some length to what has become a matter of immediate concern–Fahmy’s demand that Israel halt immigration for 50 years and return to the 1947 partition boundaries. He characterized that statement as “very, very unhelpful.”
He also stressed the complexities of the Middle East situation and said he was convinced “that over the next six months it is essential that we build on the momentum that was developed as a result of the two disengagement agreements be- cause I think the alternative to diplomacy in the Middle East could be a very serious erosion of the situation which in turn could lead to another renewal of hostilities.”
FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES REMAIN
Sisco conceded that “regardless of what progress has been made over the last year and a half of limited negotiations between the Arabs and Israelis, the fundamental differences between the two sides remain.” He said the situation was further complicated by “very sharp divisions… between the Arab states and between the Arab states and the Palestinians…the potential conflict between ourselves and the Soviet Union” and the “delicate relationship between consumers and producers of oil” and “its potential impact on the economies of Western Europe…the U.S. as well as its close ally, Japan.”
Sisco said, however, that he thought “it’s fair to say that some practical progress has been made which both Israel and the Arab world would consider to be to the mutual benefit of each.” He referred to Israel’s disengagement agreements with Egypt and Syria, which in the first case, he said, “has been carried out impeccably” and in the second without any major violations.
He noted that the situation on the Golan Heights was “much more difficult and much more delicate than in the Sinai” where “there is more room to maneuver” and “which is further away from the populated areas of Israel.”
According to Sisco, “While there are lingering doubts and reservations which are understandable, given the history of the last two decades, there seems to be more confidence that a second step on the Egyptian front might prove possible….We continue to feel that if the process of negotiations can start in a serious and meaningful way, the doors of diplomacy can remain open and practical progress can in fact be made.”
ACROSS-THE-BOARD APPROVAL TOO COMPLICATED
Speaking of the U.S. role in the Middle East, Sisco said the U.S. undertook it “largely because this has been the desire of both Israel and the Arabs…by that I mean, trying to solve a small portion of the problem at a time. We are convinced that if we were to try to approach the solution of the Arab-Israeli dispute on an overall, across-the-board basis, it is too complicated to achieve this kind of overall result.”
“For this reason, regardless of the fact that from one quarter or another one hears that the process is very slow–one hears the concern that perhaps events on the ground will tend to out-strip the capacities of diplomacy–nevertheless, we feel. and I think in this there is full agreement between the United States and Israel, that the only practicable approach is this step-by-step approach–trying to parcel out pieces of the problem in such a way that they tend to build the kind of confidence which will be required in the long run if peace can be achieved,” Sisco said
He added, “In the last two weeks we have been engaged in discussions both with the Israeli government and the Egyptian government looking toward further steps of this kind. I can’t honestly predict to you whether we will be able to develop the kind of reconciliation that will be required. I am convinced of one thing–that over the next six months it is essential that we build on the momentum that was developed as a result of the two disengagement agreements.”
Referring to Fahmy’s provocative demands, Sisco said, “This kind of statement and a number of others which I would quite frankly put in the category of public relations, is hardly helpful to the negotiating efforts of the United States and it’s hardly helpful in creating the kind of climate which we think is required.”
FAHMY’S STATEMENT VERY UNHELPFUL
Continuing. Sisco declared: “Candidly, we have tried to advise both the Arabs as well as the Israelis to downplay and to say as little as possible with respect to the other side and the reason we have done this is that we understand that a number of these statements made by one side or another at a given time is for domestic consumption. This last statement was very, very unhelpful. Candidly, I would not take it seriously. I hope we can get a cease-fire on this kind of propaganda statements because I think they are terribly unhelpful to our efforts.”