JERUSALEM (Nov. 23)
U.S. Ambassador Malcolm Toon flew to Washington today for a general Middle East policy conference that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger has been conducting with several U.S. ambassadors to Middle East countries during the past few days.
Israeli officials refer to the series of conferences on the ambassadorial level as a reassessment but say that this time it appears to be a genuine reassessment of policy rather than a “policy of reassessment” such as President Ford ordered after the collapse of interim talks between Israel and Egypt last March and which Israelis regarded as a direct pressure tactic to extract additional concessions from Jerusalem.
The current talks at the State Department are viewed here as the prelude to a new American diplomatic initiative, possibly a revival of Kissinger’s proposal, which he made in his address before the UN General Assembly last September, for an “informal” conference involving all parties to the Middle East dispute.
Kissinger got non-committal responses from Israel, the Arabs and the Soviet Union at the time, But in view of recent actions at the UN, notably the General Assembly a resolution inviting the PLO to participate in all UN-sponsored peace-making forums on the Middle East, the informal conference idea appears to be an attempt to skirt the dangerous Palestinian Issue at this time.
Observers here pointed out that any move to reconvene the Geneva conference, as is being urged by the Soviet Union and Egypt, would lead to a head-on clash over the PLO. On one hand, there is the UN resolution, and on the other Israel’s determination, presumably shared by the U.S., to have no contacts whatever with the PLO.
TALKS MAY EXCLUDE THE PLO
According to tentative reports out of Washington, the informal conference would be held in New York on the UN ambassadorial level. That would seem to exclude the PLO which, though it has observer status in the General Assembly, represents no government and has no UN ambassador.
These speculations could not be confirmed here. Israeli officials are reluctant to make any predictions until they have a general outline of Kissinger’s plans, presumably from Toon when he returns from Washington, and until Syria decides whether or not it will agree to extend the mandate of UNDOF.
As Toon departed for Washington, it was learned that the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Richard Murphy, has returned to his Damascus post following meetings with Kissinger over the weekend. The U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, Thomas Pickering, is believed to have flown to Washington yesterday. The American envoy to Saudi Arabia is also believed to be participating in the policy conferences.