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Atherton Indicates U.S. Pressing Israel to Return to 1967 Borders

A top Middle East strategist in the Carter Administration virtually conceded yesterday that the United States is pressing Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders because the Arabs are not indicating they will compromise on territories. He also said that Jerusalem “has to be part of the negotiating process.”

Alfred L. Atherton, Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs, was responding to a question at the opening session of a two-day national meeting at the State Department of editors and broadcasters to discuss foreign policy.

“I have to say from all our talks with the Arabs I do not see any indication they are prepared to both give up their position of non-acceptance and non-recognition of Israel and to give up the territory beyond the 1967 borders,” Atherton said. “One has to see in the perception of the Arabs that is already a territorial compromise–they are giving up a claim of territory in that part of Palestine which has become Israel.”

Atherton added: “There are statements on the record and also in our private discussions that their (Arab) objective is to make permanent peace with Israel. We ask no one to take this on faith. That’s why we need negotiations to test this.” He did not identify the Arab leaders and the State Department spokesman who later was asked to obtain the names said he would look into it.

STATEMENT ON JERUSALEM

With reference to Jerusalem, Atherton said that “We do not accept Israel’s actions” as determining the city’s future. But he said “We would find it anomalous and repugnant to go back to the physical division that existed before 1967. Realistically, one has to acknowledge the Palestinian aspect” of the situation. “Nobody’s aspirations are going to be totally satisfied if there is to be a settlement.” He added, “But at least” the Palestinians will have had “a fair shake.”

Atherton described Vice President Walter Mondale’s reference to a “Palestinian homeland or entity preferably in relation to Jordan” as being an “example” of a solution. The President, he said, has not defined whether it would be an independent state or not.

Should Israel find itself going under in a war, would the United States become involved militarily to save her, Atherton was asked. He replied, “That would be a major and agonizing decision for an Administration to face.” It would have to be a decision, he observed, “reviewed by the President in consultation with Congress and we would have to get the best judgement possible of what the attitude of public opinion in this country was as to how we should act in such circumstances.” However, Atherton felt that “happily I don’t see this arising in the foreseeable future in light of the military capabilities of both sides.”

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, State Department spokesman Hodding Carter and Atherton all said yesterday that the Department’s statement Monday suggesting Israel’s withdrawal from administered territories had no affect on U.S.-Israel relations. Their remarks appeared to be an Administration slackening of its pressure on Israel over the issue of land.

Vance mentioned the relationship being unchanged during a breakfast meeting with reporters. Hodding Carter spoke of it at his daily news briefing, reading a section of Mondale’s June 17 speech to buttress his point. He could not say whether a peace treaty would have to be negotiated before Israel makes any further withdrawals.

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