WASHINGTON (Oct. 6)
President Carter was quoted by one of a group of 25 Congressmen who visited him at the White House today as ruling out any bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians at Geneva. According to Rep. James Scheuer (D.NY), the President said the Palestinians will be included in the pan-Arab delegation at the opening and closing sessions of the Geneva conference but all bilateral discussions will be held with governments of countries and there will be no bilateral talks with Palestinians.
Scheuer, referring to notes he made during the White House meeting, sought, in a telephone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, to clarify differing versions of the President’s remarks that were given by two other Congressmen who attended, Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D. Pa.) and Rep. Jonathan Bingham (D. NY). They concerned changes in the Soviet position reported by the President, his own position on a Palestinian state and an emotional declaration by Carter that he would “rather commit suicide” than harm Israel.
Reading from his notes, Scheuer told the JTA the President said, “I would rather commit suicide than betray Israel and break my word of honor and the honor of the United States which are both firmly committed to a strong, viable Israel–so trust me. “Eilberg gave the JTA a similar version. Bingham, who could not recall the President’s exact words, said that if Carter spoke of suicide it was in the political rather than the physical sense. But he described the President’s statements as “very reassuring, quite emotional” in his commitment to Israel.
SAYS SOVIETS DROP TERRITORIES DEMAND
The Congressmen visited Carter today to express their apprehensions that the joint U.S. -Soviet declaration on the Middle East of Oct. I represented a shift of U.S. policy away from Israel and toward the Soviet-Arab positions. Eilberg said the President reported to them that the Soviets had dropped their demands that Israel give up all of the territory it captured in the Six-Day War and return to its 1967 borders.
Scheuer told the JTA that Carter had pointed out that the Russians have always insisted, up to now, on Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories but in the joint declaration they signed a document that referred only to “territories,” something they had not done before. Scheuer’s recollection coincided with Bingham’s on that subject. Bingham thought that it was insufficient to conclude on that basis that Moscow has backed off from the Arab viewpoint.
But Scheuer agreed with Eilberg’s report that Carter said the Russians who had advocated only an end to the state of belligerency in the Mideast, now see the need for a peace treaty. The Bronx Democrat told the JTA that the President made the point that the Russians, who previously spoke of a cessation of military hostilities, took “two steps ahead” in the joint declaration which called for peace treaties.
VIEW ON PALESTINIAN STATE
According to Eilberg, Carter told his visitors that he is definitely opposed to a separate Palestinian state adjoining Israel and that, when asked why the Administration does not say this publicly, replied that the U.S. does not want to appear to have set the terms for a settlement before the Geneva peace conference.
Bingham’s version had the President saying he would not interpret “rights” of the Palestinians as pre-judging that there would be a state. Scheuer agreed with Bingham. He said the President asserted that Palestinian “rights” did not necessarily mean a state and this must be worked out at Geneva.
Eilberg said Carter told the Congressmen that the U.S.-Soviet declaration did not change American policy in the Mideast and that the U.S. purpose in obtaining it was to shift the Soviets from being an impediment, as in the past, to playing a productive role in the Mideast peace process. The President also said, according to Eilberg, that the Soviets did not insist on the PLO’s inclusion in the Geneva conference. He said the Russians had insisted on the phrase “national Palestinian rights” in the joint declaration but the U.S. refused to go along and the final document referred only to “legitimate rights.”
Despite the President’s personal reassurances that there is no change in U.S. policy toward Israel and the approach to peace in the Middle East, a letter to the President denoting continued Congressional apprehension was not recalled. Rep. Sidney Yates (D.III.) informed the President during the 40-minute White House meeting this morning that he would be receiving the letter drafted by Yates and Reps. Bingham and john Anderson (R.III.), an aide to Bingham told the JTA.
The letter, bearing the signatures of 137 members of Congress of both parties from all regions of the country, was still open for additional signatures late today, the JTA learned. Congressional aides associated with the letter said it was being sent because the legislators feel the meeting with the President has not “answered all our concerns.”
But a news conference scheduled for this morning by some 20 Senators who are apprehensive over the U.S.-Soviet declaration was called off. According to aides, the Senators decided not to air their views until they know more about the understanding reached between Carter and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan in New York yesterday.
Meanwhile, about 1500 persons gathered in Lafayette Park opposite the White House today in a demonstration of support for Israel. It was sponsored by the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington and drew large numbers of youngsters from Hebrew day schools and youths from local universities as well as members of Congress. The principal speaker, Sen. Donald Riegle (D.Mich.), urged the Carter Administration to “put the questions on the table” to Israel’s adversaries and “get straight answers.”
Republican Congressional leaders and the Republican National Committee, meanwhile, also continued to blast Carter for collaborating with the Soviet Union in the Middle East. GOP National Chairman William Brock urged the Administration yesterday to “reconsider” its Middle East policy “before more damage is done to America’s national interest, foremost of which is the cause of peace.”
On Capitol Hill, the joint Republican leadership of the Senate and House issued a statement today declaring that the U.S.-Soviet document “goes a long way” toward an “imposed solution” of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The statement was signed by Sen. Howard Baker of Tenn. and Rep. John Rhodes of Ariz.