WASHINGTON (Sep. 28)
Syrian Foreign Minister Abdul Halim Khaddam today indirectly indicated that he and President Carter disagreed on who should represent the Palestinians at a reconvened Geneva conference for a Middle East settlement.
Khaddam’s indication came when he evaded a reporter’s direct question on whether he and Carter were “in agreement on the sort of Palestinians who should be at Geneva.” Responding to the question, Khaddam said, “We expressed our own point of view, namely that the PLO must represent the Palestinians.”
Khaddam was at the White House for about two hours, meeting with Carter and his top aides. Later this afternoon, the President met with Jordan’s Foreign Minister and Chief of the Royal Court, Hassen Ibrahaim and Sharif Sharaf, respectively.
Khaddam, who met reporters upon emerging from the White House, spoke in Arabic in response to questions. He refused to give the President’s reaction to the Syrian position on the PLO saying “it is not in my job description to speak for the President.” Asked what the PLO has done so far to try to bring about a general peace, Khaddam again evaded a direct answer. He said that “the PLO is ready to go and attend the Geneva conference on the basis of the ethical and equitable things that will go into the conference.”
Asked whether he was satisfied with the American position towards the PLO, Khaddam said again in an evasive reply, “I have said that I am very satisfied with the noble effort expended by the President of the United States towards peace.”
ISRAEL CITED AS PRIMARY OBSTACLE
On a question as to what “the primary obstacle” is to a conference at this point, Khaddam blamed “Israeli rejection,” and without completing that thought, at least insofar as could be gotten in the Arab interpreter’s words, Khaddam alleged that Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan said the Israelis “would never withdraw from the 1967 boundaries nor would we recognize anything known as the Palestinian people.”
Neither Dayan nor any other Israeli official has been known to say Israel would keep all the territories it had won in the Six-Day War or were not aware of the Palestinians as a people. Khaddam insisted the PLO alone represented the Palestinians, saying, “We have underscored the fact, our own opinion, that there is no Palestinian who can claim to represent the Palestinians outside the PLO.”
SORTING OUT THE CONFUSION
Confusion developed later today at the White House press room when an unofficial translation of Khaddam’s response in Arabic to an Arab questioner had Khaddam saying that his and the President’s “viewpoints coincided” regarding an Arab delegation that Khaddam said would include the PLO.
This translation by on Arab journalist and supported by at least one other Arab newsman quoted Khaddam as follows: “I went over with the President concerning the efforts to reconvene the Geneva conference and I insisted on our position, which is that all the parties concerned have to participate and that’s why the PLO has to be involved and our viewpoints coincided regarding the possibility to form a unified Arab delegation including the PLO.”
White House and State Department Middle East specialists refused, however, to accept this version because it is unofficial. But they would not say whether Khaddam’s statement as translated was substantively accurate or inaccurate. A State Department source said that “our views coincide there should be a unified Arab delegation, the composition of which has to be negotiated.”
Presidential News Secretary Jody Powell, pressed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to say “yes or no” to whether the U.S. agrees or disagrees with Khaddam’s translated statement, said he would not go into details of the President’s conversations.
The question of Palestinian representation “is not a question I can answer” because “we are in a very delicate process.” Powell said the solution must be “mutually acceptable to the parties involved” and that the U.S. role is to “facilitate, make suggestions to help find (a solution) that does not violate but preserves the basic principles of the parties.”