Congress Begins to Grapple with Issue of U.S. Personnel in Sinai

Congress returned to Washington today from its August recess to grapple with the issue of whether American civilians should be stationed in Sinai as proposed under the Israeli-Egyptian interim agreement initialed by both sides Monday, Initially, the legislators are keeping the issue at arms length, at least pending Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger’s report on the new accord. Kissinger, currently visiting Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, is due back in Washington tonight when President Ford will greet him personally at Andrews Air Force Base.

The President and Kissinger are expected to discuss details of the American commitments associated with the Israeli-Egyptian interim agreement, especially the stationing of American civilian technicians between Israeli and Egyptian lines to monitor electronic detecting equipment designed to give instant information of military movements on both sides.

The Administration, “approaching this with a sense of urgency,” as a State Department spokesman put it, is pushing hard for a quick resolution by Congress on the U.S. commitment of monitors. White House aides have had “preliminary conversations” with the two Congressional committees dealing with foreign affairs and the dates will be set soon for Kissinger to testify before them.

In the rush for Congressional approval, Administration officials were nevertheless cautious in declining to predict publicly when Congress may act. It is generally understood here that unless Congress approves the American personnel role and other aspects of the agreement directly involving the U.S., the effort for a second-stage Israeli withdrawal will founder.

FULL CONSULTATION ON AGREEMENTS

State Department spokesman Robert Funseth said the Administration’s presentation to Congress of the Middle East package will consist of “full consultation” on the agreements, request for approval of the U.S. civilian monitors and Congressional legislation for the expenditure of funds through normal appropriations channels.

These would include American assurances of oil supplies for Israel. Funding usually requires much time, but delay on that element is not expected to impede Israel’s withdrawal. The personnel issue, however, is viewed as decisive. There are also commitments that Kissinger may have made to Egypt which are unknown and could possibly wreck the accord.

SENSE OF UNEASINESS PREVAILS

According to one observer, a sense of “uneasiness” prevails on Capitol Hill, Few Congressmen will commit themselves at this time. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D.Mont.) has reiterated his opposition, expressed last week, to the American monitoring role. American civilians in Sinai “sets a bad precedent.” Mansfield said. He suggested that the monitoring “should be done by the United Nations.”

Sen. Gale McGee (D.Wyo.) conceded that involving Americans was “risky, but well worth the risk if we can contribute to peace in the Middle East.” Rep. John Anderson (R.III.), third-ranking House Republican, said he expected to “support the agreement,” noting that the monitors “will not be military or even paramilitary personnel” and therefore “the argument that it would involve the U.S. military in the Middle East with combat forces is not a good argument.”

But a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on foreign operations. Rep. David Obey (D.Wisc.) warned on a televised interview yesterday that U.S. technicians in Sinai could become symbols for terrorists “who want to blow things up.” Obey, a member of a House delegation that recently visited Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, said that “If the terrorists do attack and the U.S. responds as it did in the Mayaguez affair involving Cambodia, the U.S. may well be basically unable for a long time to play an effective role in the Middle East.”

U.S. PRESENCE IN SINAI URGED

Leaders of Jewish organizations called upon Ford to urge Congress to approve the presence of U.S. civilian personnel in the Sinai and expressed the view that the upcoming Congressional debate is not just a Jewish concern but a national matter involving all Americans.

Mrs. Charlotte Jacobson, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-American Section, said that with the “assumption by the U.S. of a participatory role in the peace-making and peace-keeping process in the Mideast, it becomes essential for the American people to understand how their continued concern for peace in the area is vital to American interests.”

Referring to the pending Congressional hearings in regard to American commitments, Mrs. Jacobson emphasized the importance of full support for those commitments by the American people as these commitments by the American people as their means of expressing their belief in the need for maintaining the security of Israel. At the same time, she pledged the continued vigilance of the Jewish people on behalf of Israel as the new pact is tested in the months ahead.

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith noted that there is some concern that the U.S. commitment is a risk in light of this country’s experience, Seymour Graubard, ADL’s national chairman, said, “There is a fundamental difference in this instance. Egypt and Israel have both indicated that the presence of U.S. civilians is desirable and have requested that they be sent to monitor and operate early warning stations in the Sinai.” While welcoming the agreement, Graubard also called for “direct, face-to-face negotiations between the parties,” as the only road “to the mutual trust and credibility which are necessary for a real and lasting solution.”

The American Jewish Congress expressed support for Ford’s call for the use of U.S. civilians to monitor the new Sinai agreement and said a U.S. presence there was an “essential” element in progress toward peace in the Mideast. In a telegram to the White House, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, president of the AJ Congress, stated:

“The fact that small numbers of American civilian technicians will be stationed on both sides and will be there at the request of both parties should eliminate any serious apprehension that America will find itself drawn into some future conflict. American citizens would not be there in any partisan capacity and would not be identified with the cause of either side, Any analogy to America’s past involvements or to conflicts in any other part of the world is wholly misleading.”

NEXT STORY