Behind the Headlines Bonn’s New Diplomatic Offensive in the Middle East

The Bonn government is launching a large-scale diplomatic offensive in the Middle East, involving practically all Arab nations except Egypt. Israel, too, is excluded. Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher intends to clarify German Middle East policy which favors a far-reaching comprehensive peace’ settlement in the region.

The overture to the Arabs will begin with the three-day visit of Morocco’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Boucetta, next Friday. It will be followed by the visit of Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Suhaim Bin Hamad Al-Thani the following Monday. In the course of the next few weeks Genscher will visit Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya and Algeria.

Asked why he will not stop over in Cairo and Jerusalem and if that was a snub at the Israeli Egyptian peace efforts, Dr. Juergen Sudhoff, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry rejected such speculations emphatically. “We first had top-level talks with Egypt,” he said, “and as far as Camp David is concerned; we are in close contact with the Americans and Israel knows our position quite well. What we intend to do now, is to talk to those Arab nations which are so far rejecting a peace solution. We want peace and that is why we attempt to influence others in that direction.”

POLICY SEEN MOVING AWAY FROM ISRAEL

The German Foreign Minister intends to focus his talks with his Arab colleagues on two major aspects of Bonn’s Middle East policy: the German government is interested in seeing unity in the Arab camp because this is considered a prerequisite for peace. Bonn is in favor of a comprehensive Middle East solution, which will consider the interests of all states and peoples.

Some political observers here believe that this position is the expression of a policy of moving away from Israel. The Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected that accusation. Bonn, he said, is trying to stay close to Israel and Egypt, but also to the other Arab countries. It is important that Cairo and Jerusalem don’t stop their peace efforts but continue. In that context, the German Foreign Minister regretted the continuation of the Israeli settlement policy on the West Bank as it was not useful for a peace solution.

The visit of Morocco’s Foreign Minister is welcomed in Bonn, as German-Moroccan relations have always been close and of a friendly nature.

Genscher intends to assure his colleague from Rabat that the European Economic Community’s (EEC) Middle East policy will be continued. The three-day talks will also include trade questions and development assistance as Morocco is among the favored recipients of German aid. It has so far received almost one billion Marks in capital and technical aid and there are sizeable German private investments in the country.

The visit by Qatar’s Foreign Minister will be a first because there has never before been a visit by an official delegation from that Persian Gulf state. By protocol, the visit is labeled private but the number of talks between the Foreign Minister and leading German politicians certainly gives it a political note. Qatar’s Ambassador to Bonn has voiced the conviction that his country’s head of state, Emir Khalifa Bin Harbad A-Thani will come on an official state visit to Bonn before the end of the year.

SCHMIDT VISIT TO ISRAEL STILL UNCERTAIN

German-Israeli relations are rather cool at the moment. For that reason, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt does not plan to make his long planned visit to Israel in the near future. The government has gained the impression that Jerusalem is not willing to continue further far-reaching peace efforts and pursue a course toward a comprehensive peace solution in the Middle East, Bonn sources said. That filled the government here with concern.

Originally, Schmidt’s visit was scheduled for 1977 and the postponement has been criticized in Israel. There was also anger over Bonn’s critical views on peace process. The German government regrets that Jerusalem does obviously not consider sufficiently the importance of a comprehensive Middle East solution for the international stability.

The Germans have always viewed the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty as a valuable first step, which must be followed by more, as quickly as possible. The Germans fear that Israel is content with the first, step and they see proof for that in the continuation of the settlement policies. Chancellor Schmidt is obviously not prepared to risk his international reputation for the attempt to bring Israel and the other Arab nations closer-together–an attempt, which he believes is doomed to failure–at least at the moment.

The Germans and their European partners believe that an agreement with the OPEC countries on moderate oil prices is impossible as long as the Arab oil producers continue to use petroleum as a weapon in the Middle East conflict. This is also the reason for Bonn’s criticism of Washington that it does not continue its peace efforts with the same persistence it has used for the Israeli-Egyptian treaty. The Germans fend off criticism from Jerusalem by referring to Bonn’s policies of maintaining good contacts with the Arab world–a policy, it is argued here, which has been kept up also in the interest of Israel. But Bonn feels that these contacts are deteriorating somewhat and they have launched their diplomatic offensive.

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