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U.S. Hopes to Avoid Confrontation with Israel over Oil Explorations

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The State Department said today it hopes the United States and Israel will be able to “minimize the possibility of a confrontation” over the oil explorations by an American company in the Gulf of Suez.

Department spokesman Frederick Brown denied that the State Department had expressed anger when it complained that Israeli naval units had damaged equipment owned by Amoco which is drilling for oil in the gulf for the Egyptians. “We made our position clear to the Israelis.” Brown said, adding “the legalities are complex.” The “main thing,” he said, is that “we are talking.”

The Israelis have used naval patrols to keep the oil drilling in what they consider the Egyptian-controlled part of the Gulf of Suez and not Israeli held waters. The State Department believes Israeli control is confined to the Sinai and does not extend into the adjacent gulf. Brown said the Department believes that the American company has the right to explore the gulf in the area in which Israeli patrol boats ripped up the oil drill’s moorings. Replying to a question, Brown said that during the incident, the Israelis had shot at some markers but not at any of the Americans.

Undersecretary of State Philip Habib and Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz discussed the incident at the State Department yesterday. An Israeli Embassy spokesman said the meeting was “routine.” Discussion on the topic had been held in the past and will continue, he said. He added that it is untrue to speak of the possibility of a confrontation over this “small matter.”

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