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Powell: Summit Optimism Unwarranted

The Middle East summit conference, now in its tenth day at Camp David, has made “some progress” but has not yet produced the “framework” for peace that President Carter hopes to achieve and will continue at least through tomorrow and possibly afterwards, Presidential Press Secretary Jody Powell said today.

Appearing before reporters who jammed the American Legion hall for the daily press briefing this afternoon in anticipation of news of tangible results, Powell made it clear that optimistic reports of an early successful outcome were, at best, premature. Reading a prepared statement, he said that it is “simply not possible at this point to say what the results” may be.

Powell said he was “aware of the various reports predicting various types of conclusions to the summit. Rather than try to deal with them all individually, let me just say this about the general situation as of this morning, as seen by those present at Camp David. As we said before coming to Camp David, our goal is to produce a framework for reaching peace in the Middle East. There has been some progress and some flexibility. But we don’t yet have such a framework. More progress and more flexibility are essential if that goal is to be achieved.”

Powell added: “The intense efforts of the past few days are continuing. However, it is simply not possible at this point, to say what the results of those efforts will be.” He said that his statement had been approved by members of each of the three delegations but was not a joint statement of the summit conference.

Asked if the conference was in its final stage, Powell, who had said yesterday that it was “approaching the final stages,” replied, “how long the final stage is, is a matter of conjecture.” Asked if the summit has at least gone for enough so that some framework will be achieved, he replied, “No, I cannot say that.” He told the reporters that, in the context of some reports that “somehow we have ‘made it’ and that the only question is somehow fleshing out a picture of success,” Powell said, “I wish that were true. They (the reports) are not true.”

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Asked if Israel has agreed in principle on withdrawal from occupied territories, as widely reported last night, Powell said, “I believe the Israelis have denied this emphatically.” He said that Premier Menachem Begin’s press spokesman, Dan Patir, “asked me to deny this, which I do now.” The report in question had Israel agreeing to withdraw its military forces from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This morning, an Israel Embassy spokesman in Washington labelled the report “completely untrue.”

Asked to define the “framework” that is the goal of the summit meeting, Powell told the reporters, “That’s what Israel and Egypt must agree to.” Asked if greater flexibility was required of Israel and Egypt, Powell refused to make an assessment. “Our point is that there is a need for flexibility on both sides,” he said. He added, “I am not saying we are at a stalemate or at a defacto end of the conference and looking for a way to wrap it up.”

Reporters pressed the White House spokesman to explain precisely what is happening at Camp David to cause him to shy away from saying when the conference would end. Powell had announced to the press late yesterday that in view of the “uncertain conclusion” of the summit conference, President Carter had postponed for one week a series of speaking engagements on behalf of Democratic candidates that he was to have begun tomorrow. Powell would say today only that “all parties agree that they are prepared to continue as long as they feel they can be productive.”

He said he was “not aware of signs of anyone (at Camp David) raising the question that we’ve gone as far as we can go. We are not at that stage,” he said. Asked if President Carter, as the host, is considering proposing that the conference be dissolved, Powell replied emphatically, “No.”

Carter met with Begin for about 25 minutes late night at Begin’s quarters in Birch Lodge. He strolled with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt this morning. The American and Israeli delegations met on the ministerial level for an hour last night. In contrast to the surge of optimism that prevailed in the media last night and this morning, the talk here today was that the summit conference had been moving toward a successful outcome but some element emerged that interrupted the process.

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