Vance Says His Mideast Trip is to Aid Peace Process Between Israel, Arabs

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said today that the conversations between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin have begun an “irreversible process” towards a Middle East settlement. He said his own upcoming visit to the area is to seek to bring other nations into this process.

Announcing that Syria has now “welcomed” him to visit Damascus on his journey to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, Vance said “our proper role is to support and reinforce” those “crosscurrents” moving toward bringing Arab and Israeli positions closer together “while using our relationship across the spectrum to moderate” those that are pulling those positions wider apart. “I will be seeking to do both on my visit to the area,” he said at a news conference at the State Department.

Strongly supporting the Cairo conference which will begin about Dec. 14, Vance said “we intend to help” Sadat and Begin “wherever possible to enlarge” the opening they have made toward the settlement. The Secretary’s statements came while reports from the Middle East predicted that Egypt would follow its break in relations with five Arab countries, including Syria, by severing ties with the Soviet Union.

CRITICAL OF SOVIET UNION

A reporter asked Vance whether the visit to Moscow by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Philip Habib was to tell the Soviet Union that it was not as constructive as the United States would like it to be in view of the strong Soviet support for Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization which have attacked Egypt and joined in a confrontation alliance at Tripoli, Libya against Sadat.

“Insofar as the Soviet Union is concerned,” Vance said, “they have responsibilities as cochairman” of the Geneva conference. “Some Soviet statements in recent days have not been helpful. They raise questions” about their “ultimate objectives” in the Mideast. But Vance added, the U.S. still believes that the Soviets want a comprehensive settlement.

He said that Habib, who had been in Moscow since Saturday meeting with Soviet Middle East specialists, will report to him in Brussels. Vance leaves tonight for Belgium for the NATO winter meeting before going to the Mideast.

REAFFIRMS SUPPORT OF CAIRO TALKS

Vance denounced a reporter’s suggestion that U.S. enthusiasm for the Sadat-Begin talks was late and that the U.S. reassessment of policy now made it conceivable that a settlement can be made without Geneva. “As soon as the statement on the Cairo conference was made we indicated” that the U.S. would play a helpful role but it wanted to consult with the parties first. Vance said.

“We support very strongly this initiative,” Vance said. “We believe Cairo is a stepping stone toward peace.” He conceded “it is possible” that a settlement could be made without Geneva, “but all of the parties have said it is their intention to move toward a Geneva conference.” But first, Vance said, it is necessary to see what will be accomplished at Cairo. “I hope much can be accomplished,” he added.

Asked whether Syria is receptive to his visit to the Mideast, he pointed out that the “Syrians have never said they have closed the door to Geneva discussions.” He said “we have always strived for the objective of bringing the parties face-to-face–as did our predecessors–and worked for the parties to negotiate.” In this connection, he expressed the hope that “the circle of face-to-face negotiations” that started between Israel and Egypt “will be widened to include the others.”

Continually referring to his twin objectives of supporting Egypt and Israel while trying to induce the opposition Arab states and the Soviet Union to join them, Vance pointed out that there are “no time limits” to the Cairo meeting and that the parties have said the Cairo meeting is “preparatory toward the Geneva conference.”

FUTURE ROLE OF U.S

The future role of the U.S., he said, is “to facilitate direct talks.” Vance said that “both the President and I feel there is no substitute for face-to-face conversation, direct talks with the leaders of the various nations involved. This is particularly important at this time when there is a blockage of communications between various leaders and perhaps we can play a facilitative role by keeping those channels of communications open.”

The Secretary indicated that the U.S. may again enter into a mediator’s role “if the parties ran into roadblocks, as the President has indicated, and new initiatives are helpful, we may come up with suggestions of our own,” he said.

Speaking of Egypt’s break with the five Arab states, Vance said “it is too bad that President Sadat was forced to break relations with the five Arab nations. It is our hope those differences may be healed, particularly insofar as Syria is concerned. Our hope is that all the parties–the confrontation states–will keep the channels open so that there may be movement toward on ultimate settlement.”

WILL NOT DEAL WITH PLO

Vance said he does not intend to “deal” with the Palestine Liberation Organization as a result of the commitment the U.S. made to Israel in the 1975 Sinai agreement. He said the Palestinian issue must be solved “but that is up to the parties” and he would not “prejudge what the parties may offer.”

After pointing out that the Sadat visit to Israel has removed the “psychological stumbling-block” in the political process toward a Mideast settlement, Vance concluded with the hope that “out of Cairo it might be possible to come up with a framework of substantive matters for a comprehensive settlement and that procedural questions might be cleared away.”

White House Deputy Presidential News Secretary, Rex Granum said yesterday that Vance’s Mideast trip was decided upon a week ago at a meeting with President Carter, Vice President Walter Mondale, Vance, and National Security Advisor Zbigniew. Brzezinski. Granum stressed that the President has no plans to visit any Mideast country other than Saudi Arabia when he goes abroad late this month.

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