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Mixed Congressional Reaction to Begin

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Assessment of Israeli Premier Menachem Begin’s visit yesterday at the Capital with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranged from “cordial but not enthusias tic” to “extremely cordial,” a canvass by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency of many of those present indicated.

By virtually all accounts, his discussion with 66 Senators, about four times the number of the committee membership itself, was less warm and affective than his later meeting with the House committee where the attendance was basically its membership.

“When Golda Meir in her heyday used to come to the Capital,” an aide to a Senatorial friend of Israel explained, “she was most warmly received and she could have anything she asked. Begin doesn’t come across that way. Many Senators don’t feel close to him. That’s the main difference.” This version appeared close to a consensus of those canvassed on the Senate side.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN FRIENDS

On the House side, the estimate was that Begin was “brilliant” and “surprised” at least one Congressman who was critical of some of his politics and approaches. Another said he spoke in a “concerned atmosphere” but “the important thing” was that the “differences” between the U.S. and Israel “were expressed between friends rather than disputes between enemies.” But, he added, “clearly there was reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to Israel. The differences were like those in the family.”

Begin, who went from an extended meeting with President Carter to the Senate, was generally reported as physically tired and presented his view in a “low key,” the JTA was told. Later, after a brief rest, he was more vigorous in his presentation to the House members and was described as “having handled himself well.”

While “no nasty” questions were asked, Begin was pressed mainly by Senators who were not members of the Foreign Relations Committee on his policy on Jewish settlements. “There is a mixed picture on this” and on opposition to the Administration’s proposal to provide F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia, a Senatorial aide said.

NO EROSION ON ANTI-PLO VIEWS

“There is no erosion regarding the PLO,” a Senator said. “On that score Israel is as strong as ever in the Senate. But people are still confused about other issues, particularly the settlements.” In this connection, a Senator pointed out that 27 Senators have now endorsed a resolution calling on Carter to cut of U.S. government aid within 30 days to countries supporting the terrorist PLO.

Sen. Charles Percy (R.III.) said later “this is probably the toughest negotiation that any Israeli Prime Minister has had with a President of the United States.” An indication of Administration watchfulness of Begin’s impact on Congress was that Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders and Samuel Lewis, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, attended the Senate meeting. Sen. James Abourezk (D.SD), who yesterday attacked Israel’s incursion into southern Lebanon, was also present but asked no questions.

In both the Senate and House meetings, Begin pointed out that he offered a “forthcoming” plan for a Middle East settlement. He had presented this to Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat four months ago. “Why what was right in December is not right in March?” he asked. “Why what was flexible in the winter is considered something else in the spring?”

In response to a question from Percy that Iraq is sending ammunition, trucks and troops to the PLO, Begin estimated that some 500 armed Iraqis are in Lebanon north of the Litani River. “We didn’t attack them because we do not want to widen the conflict,” he was quoted as saying.

QUESTIONS WITH A CRITICAL EDGE

A number of questions with a “critical edge to them” focussed on whether Israel was lawfully using U.S. supplied military equipment in southern Lebanon. This is the brunt of a letter by Reps. Paul Findley (R.III.) and Charles Whalen (R. Ohio) to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who has not yet replied.

It was also being made an issue by anti-Israeli elements who propose to push an embargo in Congress against further supply of U.S. weapons to Israel on the grounds that the Lebanese situation is similar to Turkey’s incursion into Cyprus. The House has cut off arms to Turkey as a result. However, in response to questions, Begin pointed out there is no parallel between Israel entering Lebanon and Turkey’s position in Cyprus since Israel has no intention of remaining in southern Lebanon.

Israel, Begin pointed out, can use U.S. weapons in self-defense and entered southern Lebanon to protect Israeli lives. He also said that the Israeli-Lebanese armistice of 1949 includes a Lebanese pledge that regular or irregular forces would not attack Israel from Lebanon.

House Minority Leader Jim Wright (D. Texas) closed the session with a tribute to Begin personally and his intentions for peace in the area. “We support your efforts for peace and say ‘shalom,’ Wright said.

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