WASHINGTON (Jan. 26)
The White House indicated today that President Ford will visit the Middle East but flatly refused to confirm that such a trip has been scheduled. However, there was indication that the trip would be discussed with Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin this week.
A report circulated here today after the return of Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger from Moscow and Madrid that the President will go to Egypt, Israel and other countries in mid-April, However, Presidential Press Secretary Ron Nessen, when questioned today, made the following statement:
“The President agreed publicly in principle at the time of the Sadat visit to visit the Middle East. Foreign visits are always arranged at the mutual convenience of the parties. At this point there is no timetable and there are no specific plans for such a visit.” Egyptian President Anwar Sadat invited Ford to visit his country during Sadat’s visit to Washington last September.
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Nessen said that it was “possible” a Mideast trip will be discussed with Rabin who will meet with the President tomorrow and Wednesday. When he was asked whether the mid-April timetable was an error, Nessen sidestepped the question by declining to confirm it. Nessen also said that the trip “would be totally removed from political considerations.”
This led to immediate speculation by informed sources here that the President and Kissinger have decided to pursue with vigor their long-standing policy to bring about further agreements in the diplomatic process between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Although this is an election year, and some have been indicating that the Administration would swing away from strong insistence on movement that might be construed in Israel as undue pressure without commitments by the Arab governments it is firmly believed that the President would make domestic political capital by driving towards some sort of agreement whether or not it is palatable to the Rabin government.
A Presidential visit to the Middle East possibly would include Jordan, Saudi Arabia and even Syria and Lebanon. But speculation on the itinerary was discouraged in view of uncertainties over the Lebanese situation and Syria’s role in it.
Meanwhile, Rabin was due to begin his visit to the U.S. by participating in a Jerusalem-Philadelphia ceremony at the Liberty Bell as part of America’s bicentennial celebration to be followed by a rally of the Philadelphia Jewish community at the Music Academy and a reception for the city’s Jewish leaders. The Premier will end his visit Feb. 5 in New York City with a meeting with American intellectuals and scholars.
In between he will spend four days in Washington, visit Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles and make another stop in New York where he will deliver a major address at a dinner of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies joint campaign, meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and with leaders of Black organizations and trade unions.
Rabin is being accompanied by Mrs. Rabin and five assistants–Amos Aron, director general of his office; Elie Mizrach, his office director; Brig Gen. Ephraim Poran, his military secretary; and Gen. Ariel Sharon and Dan Patir, his advisors.
During his stay in Washington he will address a joint session of Congress, will meet with Treasury Secretary William Simon and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, meet with the Senate and House appropriations committees and meet with the leaders of the UJA and Israel Bond Organization.