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State Department Caught by Surprise

The U.S. was caught by surprise by the Israeli action yesterday legalizing three settlements on the West Bank, it was learned here today.

Despite speculation that Premier Menachem Begin raised the issue with the President during his recent discussions, the State Department said yesterday “The United States government had no advance notice of these steps by the Israeli government.” However, the broader question of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories was brought up during the Carter-Begin talks, it was learned.

Asked what the State Department meant by the term “legalized,” a Department spokesman said “our understanding is that these settlements are now authorized, ex-post facto, by the Israeli government.” He reiterated that in the U.S. view the Israeli action was in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Article 49 of that Convention states “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

DINITZ EXPLAINS ISRAEL’S MOVE

In a related development, Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz met yesterday with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in a session “primarily devoted to summing up the views before his (Vance’s) departure” for the Middle East next Sunday.

According to Dinitz, “the question of settlements was also raised. In this there was really no big discussion because what the United States had to say on the matter was said earlier by the spokesman of the State Department and our position on it was also clear. So this is one of the issues in which each of us had its own policy and its own position on the matter.” Dinitz said “there was no agreement” on the question of the settlements during Begin’s talks with Carter.

Asked why the State Department had not been notified in advance of the announcement regarding the settlements, he said he had received “no complaint, neither on the part of the State Department nor the Secretary on the lack of communication between us on this matter.” Dinitz categorized the state of Israeli-American relations as “good. I think we have a high degree of understanding, a great degree of confidence.”

Dinitz’s remarks came after the Secretary of State told newsmen that “we are deeply disappointed at (the Israeli action). . .and are of the opinion that the placing of these settlements is contrary to international law and presents an obstacle to progress towards peace.”

Vance leaves Sunday for a 12-day trip to the Middle East although no itinerary has been released. It was learned, however, that he would visit Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and possibly Lebanon as well as Israel. State Department spokesman Hodding Carter today denied speculation that Vance intended to engage in “shuttle diplomacy” between Israel and the Arab capitals. Vance will hold a news conference Friday in which it is expected he will discuss details of the trip.

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