WASHINGTON (Jul. 31)
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance left tonight on an 11-day visit to the Middle East with proposals the United States hopes will lay the groundwork for reconvening the Geneva Middle East peace conference. Prior to leaving, the Secretary held a news conference and met with a top Soviet diplomat at the State Department but the substance of his talks with the Soviet official and the proposals he is taking with him remained for the most part under wraps.
Speaking at a news conference at the State Department on Friday, Vance conceded that at the conclusion of his trip “it is still possible. . . we will not know” whether a Geneva conference will be reconvened. “If that is the case we would plan to have further meetings,” possibly at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in September when Arab and Israeli diplomats will be in New York for the session. He voiced optimism, however, that as a result of the trip “we will have a clearer idea of the ability to which we have been able to narrow the differences that have existed between the parties.”
President Carter was more openly optimistic that the Geneva talks could be reconvened. During his press conference last Thursday the President said he was optimistic because all the Mideast leaders with whom he has met “want to go to Geneva”. He noted that even though the three Jewish settlements on the West Bank which Israel legalized a day earlier made moves toward an ultimate peace more difficult it is “not an insurmountable problem”.
He reiterated this view again last Friday in an interview with a group of American editors here. “We still have a lot of difficulties to overcome,” Carter was quoted as saying. “My own belief is that they can be overcome.” The President also repeated in his interview, the text of which was released by the White House, that the legalization of Jewish settlements on the West Bank “are illegal and contravene the Geneva conference.” Neither in his press conference nor in his interview did Carter mention a possible date for reconvened Geneva talks, unlike his statement after meeting with Premier Menachem Begin that the talks looked good for October, the date suggested by Begin.
MUM ON WEST BANK TRUSTEESHIP PLAN
Vance refused to comment when a reporter asked him whether the proposals he was taking with him included a plan for a trusteeship arrangement for the West Bank. “It would be inappropriate for me to go into any specifics of what we might suggest,” he replied.
The afternoon Israeli newspaper Maariv reported Friday that Vance would ask the Arabs to consider granting Israel the status of trustee over the territories for some years until the local population decides, in a referendum or by other means, what its future should be. Under that arrangement local affairs would be left in the hands of the local population but Israel would be responsible for the defense and security of the region.
DOES NOT EXPECT TO MEET WITH PLO
Vance also told the news conference that he did “not expect there will be any meeting” with the Palestine Liberation Organization “on this trip”. The U.S., he noted, is “constrained” by the Egyptian-Israeli interim agreements to forego contacts with the PLO until it recognizes Israel. Vance admitted, however, that the U.S. has been receiving communications from the PLO through intermediaries but said the U.S. was not responding.
The Secretary said he was “pleased” by reports that Israeli Premier Menachem Begin has accepted the possibility of stationing United Nations observers along the Lebanese-Israeli border and termed the idea “a constructive suggestion” which he said “will be discussed”.
Vance also said the U.S. was keeping “closely in touch” with the Soviet Union, the co-chairman of the Geneva conference, and he himself has conducted “frequent discussions” with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. The Secretary said he intended to divulge the specifics of his suggestions to the Soviets prior to his departure. Vance met yesterday with Vladillen Vasev, the charge d’affaires at the Soviet Embassy in the absence of Dobrynin.
Vance is due in Alexandria tomorrow and after three days there will fly to Beirut and the same day move on to Damascus where he will remain until Aug. 5. He will then go to Amman and remain there until Aug. 7 and proceed from there to Saudi Arabia Vance will arrive in Israel on Aug. 9 and spend two days meeting with Israeli leaders. He is scheduled to return Aug. 12 via London.
BASIS FOR TALKING TO PALESTINIAN LEADERS
Meanwhile, Carter said in a White House interview with Time magazine Friday that “If the Palestinian leaders. . . espoused the UN Resolutions 242 and 338 as a basis for negotiations at Geneva, we would immediately commence plans to begin talks with the Palestinian leaders.” He said he could not speak for Israeli Premier Menachem Begin’s response to such a development but “I would hope that he would accept that.”
The interview, conducted in the Oval Office with Time’s managing editor, Henry Grunwald and a group of Time correspondents, appears in this week’s edition of the magazine. It elicited from the President expressions of optimism that the Geneva conference would “materialize” this year, an acknowledgement that it might end in failure and the suggestion that “overwhelming” world opinion could guide it to a successful outcome.
In that connection, the President said, according to the official White House transcript of the interview: “I think if a particular leader of one of the countries should find that his position is in direct contravention to the position of all the other parties involved, including ourselves and the Soviet Union, and was narrowly defined in his own country, there would be a great impetus on that leader to conform with the overwhelming opinion.”
At another point in the interview he said, according to the transcript: “I think there is a general acceptance of the proposition that we ought to have a comprehensive settlement, based on peace treaties with all the Arab nations and the Israelis being involved together, and with world opinion being marshaled to support and to perpetrate any agreement. . . I think there is going to be a focusing of public attention and public influence on the talks that will be conducive to success.”
GENEVA SEEN AS A FIRST OPPORTUNITY
The President rejected a “step-by-step incremental approach” as being “too long, too tedious and leaves unhealed wounds”. He said “it would be a mistake to assume that the Geneva conference is going to be easy or brief.” But despite the risks of breakdown and failure “it will be the first opportunity, if it materializes, for the Arab leaders and the Israeli leaders to meet together in extensive negotiations to understand one another’s approach, positions, attitudes, and to marshal the opinion of the world on the points in dispute,” the President said.
Carter said that “Our own positions that have been spelled out in general terms deliberately are the ones we still espouse. They haven’t been completely accepted by the Israelis not the Arab leaders, of course, and we can’t say yet that they are completely endorsed by the Soviets either.” But the President added, after Vance’s current visit to the Middle East “I think we will have a much clearer picture of where the differences lie.”