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Special Interview Strauss Says His Mission is to Keep Negotiations Moving

Robert Strauss, President Carter’s special envoy to the Middle East said, five days before his departure to that region, that he has the President’s “full authority and support” in the execution of his mission. He said that basically it was to keep the Israeli-Egyptian peace process moving and make sure it does not “die of attrition” and “to find out how to bring something more than armaments (to the Mideast) for one country to frighten the other.”

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at his White House office yesterday, Strauss said the President has told him to use “his own judgement and instincts” but “not to revise ” U.S. positions, such as its stand on the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Strauss leaves for Israel Saturday to begin a week-long trip that will take him to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and probably to Jordan if details with Amman can be arranged in time. He will be accompanied on what the State Department described as his “first major impact swing” as Carter’s diplomatic representative, by the Administration’s foremost specialists on the Middle East. These include Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs and Robert Hunter who recently succeeded William Quanor as Middle East chief on the National Security Council.

In addition, several prominent clothing industry and trade union leaders will be in the party, including Murray Finley. president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, AFL-CIO. By design and in practical effect, the party’s make up indicates that Strauss will be serving in his two ambassadorial capacities and will combine economic matters with diplomacy. He is still the U.S. representative for trade negotiations, a job he has held since March, 1977 as well as Ambassador-at-Large for Middle East peace negotiations to which post he was appointed earlier this year.

Strauss last visited Egypt and Israel April 16-21 on a trade mission. He said the industry people who will leave with him Sunday are going to “pursue economic ventures” in Egypt as a follow-up on his earlier visit there to cooperate in developing Egypt’s economy.

WON’T DISCUSS SUBSTANTIVE ISSUES

Apart from his allusions to tactics, Strauss refused to discuss substantive issues. “I am not going to negotiate in the newspapers,” he said. “I have to find out how to bring something more than armaments for one country to frighten the other.” The peace process “has to move.” he stressed. After the accomplishments by President Carter, President Anwar. Sadat and Premier Menachem Begin “this thing can’t die of attrition. The President (Carter) wants to see this doesn’t happen, “Strauss said.

Reminded that Israel has come under intense pressure and criticism in recent weeks over its settlement policy on the West Bank, that Saudi Arabia, fully tied to the Arab “rejectionists” of the Israeli Egyptian peace treaty, is urging that the U.S. Begin an “immediate dialogue ” with the PLO and most recently. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gramyko’s insistence that the Palestinians have a “small state of their own,” the Presidential envoy was asked if there will be marked changes in the U.S. position to achieve “movement.”

“Let us not talk specific issues,” he replied. “We have positions. The President said last Thursday ‘I want you to go there and do the same kind of job you have done in other areas. You have my full authority and support. You will be making mistakes but you will bring peace to the area.'” Strauss added, “I am not a loose cannon aboard a ship. I act loose but I play conservative whether in poker or otherwise.” I consider my chances to get to second base before leaving first.” He observed that “It is necessary and appropriate to move the peace process–not in violation of the commitments of this nation or the President to either side but in pursuit of his basic commitment to peace in the Middle East.

Strauss, a former Democratic Party National Chairman, pursued two personal topics. One relates to why the President gave him the job and the other to his outlook on Jewish concerns when he was a young lawyer in Dallas. “Some people think Strauss took this job because of his relationship with the President and his political skills to hold it (the Mideast peace process) together,” he said; “until after the 1980 elections. That’s a lot of bunk. No point in my wasting time trying to dissuade people who believe that. I can only change their minds by what I can produce,” he said.

COMMITTED JEW

“Some people, ” he continued, “think because I am a committed Jew whose roots go back many years and deeply steeped in Judaism on both sides of my family–and I have a long history of activity by my family and my wife’s family on behalf of Israel–I am going to sell out to the Arab world for Israel. That’s a lot of bunk. Just like the other, there is no point to my wasting time to dissuade those people. ” He added, “Then there’s a third group that says Carter put me out there, a Jew, because I’m better pastured to put the squeeze on Israel. That too is a lot of bunk. Again, no reason to waste time to dissuade those people. The only thing that will convince them is my actions In something like this, I’m not angry with those who feel that way; there’s a lot of paranoia, suspicion, mistrust.”

Strauss said “I understand each of these three positions. What I’ve got to do by my actions is demonstrate there’s no basis for them. If I do my job right, one side will be unhappy with me for one month and the other side the following month. But I did not take this job for a popularity contest. I took it on for commitment for the cause of peace and the President believes I am uniquely qualified on his behalf and the country’s behalf.”

Asked if be was ever associated, in any way with the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism which at one time was influential among certain Jews in the South and southwest, Strauss referred to his late father-in-law, Leslie L. Jacobs of Dallas and his own leadership in the Jewish Welfare Federation there. He said “In the town in the 1940s about 20 percent of the Jews were Zionist, ten percent belonged to the Council and the rest were nothing–neither Zionist nor Council. I was among those.” He replied” exactly” when asked if he had favored the creation of Israel. “We all supported the UJA (United Jewish Appeal) extremely well. J never at any time opposed the creation of the State of Israel. Anyone who says I did is nothing but a trouble maker who would like to diminish my effectiveness.”

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