WASHINGTON (Aug. 30)
A Carter Administration diplomatic trial balloon that proposed President Carter make an offer at the Middle East summit conference next week to station American military forces in territories now administered by Israel created widespread confusion here today.
Presidential News Secretary Jody Powell, with the vacationing President in Wyoming, first apparently confirmed that Carter might offer to put American forces on the West Bank. At that time Powell apparently did not say whether a U.S. air base would also be established in the Sinai. This also was part of the proposal as made known to reporters here.
Later, however, Powell denied that he had put it that way. When clarification was sought in Washington, the White House referred queries to the State Department and the Camp David meeting is Presidential and therefore the White House should discuss the report. He suggested reporters contact the office of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor who was credited earlier this week with having floated the proposal.
Brzezinski’s office said late today that reports of “specific proposals at this time are speculative and premature.” However, the office pointed out that it has been known that the President would make suggestions to bridge the gap between Egypt and Israel but it was stressed that U.S. supplementary guarantees would not be a substitute for an agreement between the parties themselves.
NOT RULED OUT BY CARTER
Carter, himself, speaking to reporters before heading back to Washington, said he would be reluctant to station U.S. troops in the Mideast but he did not entirely rule it out, saying “I’d have to wait and see.” At present the U.S. has a force of 160 civilian technicians manning an early warning system in the UN buffer zone which separates Israeli and Egyptian lines in the Sinai.
Nevertheless, little doubt existed in Washington that the Carter Administration is considering use of U.S. military forces to induce Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories by the establishment of “an American presence.” The idea designed apparently as a means to break the impasse over the West Bank immediately ran into intense opposition from opponents of any American military intervention.
Speaking privately, State Department officials said that the use of U.S. troops to guarantee a peace agreement in the Mideast “may” be discussed at Camp David next week when Carter meets with Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In trying to avoid giving this idea a bombshell effect, officials said it was “speculation” that the Administration is preparing major new proposals in the Middle East to secure a peace settlement. They pointed out that it is an old idea that has been, as one source said, “dusted off and refurbished” for possible use.
Actually the idea of American military security for Israel had been proposed by former Sen. J. William Fulbright some seven years ago when the Arkansas Democrat was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It also came up during President Ford’s Administration and Carter himself is said to have suggested it to Begin last March.
Begin has flatly and publicly ruled out the stationing of any foreign troops on the West Bank. In addition he has opposed an Israeli-American security agreement that would be a proviso in a Mideast peace package.
VIGOROUS OPPOSITION FORCE SEEN
When the latest reports of a proposed American military presence began appearing here early this week sources familiar with the Israeli viewpoint said the idea would “not float.” Congressional foreign affairs specialists said that the Senate would undoubtedly vigorously oppose use of American troops on the West Bank even if Egypt and Israel agreed to that idea.
They observed that U.S. troops would be in an untenable position since Arab terrorists would harass them in an effort to bring about their withdrawal and leave the areas to the terrorists. “This idea is a non-starter,” one specialist said.
However, the possibility of an air base in Sinai received some favorable comment. But specialists doubted Senate approval although the momentum could be built up for passage if Israel and Egypt agreed to it. It was pointed out at the Capitol that it was only after much reluctance that the Senate approved the stationing of American civilian monitors as part of the 1975 Israeli-Egyptian Sinai agreement.