Carter: America’s ‘number One Commitment’ is Israel’s Survival

President Carter today stressed again the need for a Palestinian homeland, reaffirmed America’s “number one commitment” is the survival of Israel and expressed hope that the Palestine Liberation Organization was ready to accept Israel’s right to exist. The President also pledged that America’s special relationship with Israel would continue and said he never found an Arab leader who objected to that.

Carter made his comments at a press conference after his return from Europe where he met with leaders of 17 countries, including Syrian President Hafez Assad. He said the meeting with Assad as well as those earlier in Washington with Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Jordanian King Hussein have left him feeling “better than before” about chances for a Middle East settlement but he stressed “we still have a long way to go.”

Carter asserted that “We have had no contact with the Palestinians, the PLO.” He said his Administration is abiding by the promise of the Ford Administration that the U.S. will not deal with the PLO until it agrees to recognize Israel’s right to exist. There is a “chance it will be done,” Carter said, adding, “but I have no assurance it will be accomplished.”

Carter said a homeland for the Palestinians and the solving of the refugee problem is essential to ending the Mideast conflict. But he said the definition of what is and where the homeland should be will be left to the parties to the Mideast conflict to resolve.

ISRAEL WILL GET SPECIAL TREATMENT

The President said he wanted no one in the United States or abroad to have any doubt that “our number one commitment in the Middle East” is the survival of Israel. He also stressed “Israel will get special treatment” in regard to the co-production of arms and the sale of advanced American weapons. He said the American commitment to provide Israel with the arms she needs for her defense is “permanent” and will remain so “as long as I am in office.”

At the outset of the press conference, Carter said that “hopefully” after next week’s election in Israel the new head of the Israeli government will visit him as did Rabin in early March.

After the formal press conference, as the President was leaving, he was approached by an unidentified man who asked, “Will you allow the PLO to establish an office in Washington?” Carter replied, “I don’t know.” The man then said, “I am a Palestinian. I would like to shake hands with you.” Carter smiled and said, “I am very pleased to meet you.” They shook hands.

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