Carter Still Optimistic About Prospects for Mideast Settlement

Two Senators who met with President Carter today said he was optimistic about prospects for a Middle East settlement and did not consider the Israeli government’s move yesterday to legalize three Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a major obstacle to such an agreement. Sens. Howard Metzenbaum (D. Ohio) and George McGovern (D.SD) spoke to reporters after Carter met with a group of Senators in a session devoted largely to domestic issues.

Asked about the West Bank settlements, Metzenbaum told reporters: “I don’t think the President felt it was an affront or a slap in the face. I cannot say he accepted it, but he did see it as a reality and did not consider it a negative step.”

When Metzenbaum was questioned about the differences between what he said and the State Department’s sharp reaction yesterday over the legalization of the settlements, the Ohioan replied, “He (Carter) did not make it into a major issue.” He added, “I think the President feels optimistic that negotiations will be meaningful and will lead to a solution in the Middle East.”

However, the President later told reporters that he backed the State Department’s condemnation of Israel on the settlements. “The statement that the Secretary of State made speaks for me,” Carter said.

McGovern said “The President seemed more optimistic” about the progress toward Mideast peace “than I did. He feels the Geneva peace conference will go forward and that differences can be resolved between Arabs and Israelis.”

At the United Nations, Secretary General Kurt Waldheim criticized Israel’s move to legalize the three Jewish settlements and recalled that in an official statement on the subject last November, Security Council President Jorge Illueca of Panama said Israel’s move to establish settlements in the occupied territories was illegal.

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