U.S. Indicates Lukewarm Attitude Toward Israel’s Strate Gic Importance

President Carter’s two senior Cabinet members have made clear to Congress that his Administration bears a lukewarm attitude towards Israel’s strategic importance to the United States and that it is directly supporting Egypt’s principal terms for an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

These points emerge from testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Defense Secretary Harold Brown in the Administration’s initial presentation of its $89,6 billion foreign aid program for the fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.

The program includes $1.785 billion in economic and military assistance to Israel and $750 million for Egypt. These totals do not include Food for Peace support which gives Egypt about $200 million and Israel about $10 million.

Vance testified that the next round in the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations will be a meeting on a “ministerial level” with himself, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Egyptian Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil. In addition, he testified the Carter Administration favors linking that settlement with the establishment of Palestinian Arab autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza Strip This is a cardinal demand by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat but is strongly opposed by Israel which has emphasized that such linkage violates the Camp David agreements that provides for separate frameworks for these two matters.

Later in the day, Vance met for 40 minutes with Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron. After that meeting, reporters were told that the Carter Administration favors a ministerial meeting soon in Washington, presumably after the situations are clarified on problems stemming from Iran, Taiwan and the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT).

DEALING WITH ISSUES AS A PACKAGE

In his Congressional testimony, Vance outlined the Administration’s positions in response to a question from the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. William Broomfield of Michigan, who asked “where we stand” on the Egyptian-Israeli discussions. Vance replied that “no tangible progress” had occurred in special U.S. Ambassador Alfred Atherton’s recent 12-day mission to Cairo-and Jerusalem. In those discussions, Israel had agreed to some Egyptian exchanges while Egypt refused to make any changes.

The Secretary then Said. “We now have a clear understanding on what the barometers are for dealing with the remaining issues. It is my own judgement that the only way they can be dealt with is as a package. All of us can see individual ways for language to cover the various treaty provisions. But I think meaty provisions and how one resolves the establishment of the self governing authority on the West Bank have to be resolved at the same time in connection with an overall political settlement between Egypt and Israel.” This is also Egypt’s view.

Rep. Stephen Solarz (D. NY) raised questions about Israel’s request for $1.2 billion in U.S. aid to build two bases in the Negev replacing those Israel will abandon in the Sinai and $2 billion more for roads and other facilities needed for the new bases. Vance replied that Brown’s letter to Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman following the Camp David talks in September indicated that the U.S. would consult with Israel about the relocation of the two bases. Since then, he said, a U.S. team has made estimates of what the cost will be. But he did not say what they were.

Brown, who will be in the Middle East for the first time in his life when he visits Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt, on his nine-day mission starting Saturday as head of a high-level Defense Department mission, testified that building the two air bases in the Negev would cost about $1 billion.

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