Carter: Vance Will Tell Mideast Leaders It is Important to Make Significant Peace Progress in 1977

President Carter announced today that Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance will make a one-week trip to the Middle East in mid-February visiting Israel and five Arab countries in order to obtain “a first hand understanding of the views of Middle East leaders” on the peace process in that region. The announcement was contained in a Presidential statement issued by the White House. White House Press Secretary Jody Powell said later that Vance would visit Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia between Feb. 14-21 but “not necessarily in that order.”

The Presidential statement said Vance’s visit to the Middle East countries was “to convey to their leaders the importance the President attaches to making significant progress this year for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

The statement continued: “The President believes it is essential to have a first hand understanding of the views of Middle East leaders at the earliest possible time as the Administration considers how it can most effectively contribute to the peace process. Secretary Vance will also emphasize during his trip the value the President places on maintaining bilateral relations with the states of the Middle East.”

TO LISTEN, NOT TO NEGOTIATE

Jerrold Schechter, associate presidential press secretary for the National Security Council said in reply to questions by reporters that Vance’s trip “is not a negotiating trip and not shuttling diplomacy.” He said the Secretary was going to the Middle East “primarily to listen at this point.” He was not prepared to announce who will be traveling with Vance.

Schechter was asked if the trip was arranged with the fact in mind that Israel’s Labor Party will be holding its convention Feb. 22-24 to name its leader in the May 17 elections and if Vance’s visit would have any impact on the party’s deliberations. Schechter replied that Vance was not going for the Labor Party meeting.

Powell told reporters it would be fair to speculate that following Vance’s trip, Middle East leaders would be visiting Washington. He did not specify dates or individuals. Asked if there has been any reaction to President Carter’s statement yesterday on limiting U.S. arms sales abroad, Powell said there has been “some reaction, directly and indirectly” but he was not at liberty to say who said what.

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