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Strauss Relays to Israeli Leaders U.S. Position on Autonomy

President Carter’s special envoy Robert Strauss made clear to Israeli leaders at a series of meetings today the American position on key issues in the autonomy talks. It appeared that the U.S. agrees with Israel on some issues and is forcefully opposed to its position on others. Strauss met with Premier Menachem Begin this morning and later with Interior Minister Yosef Burg, chairman of the Israeli delegation to the autonomy negotiations with Egypt and the U.S. This evening he met with Burg and the entire Israeli negotiating team.

Although Strauss had said earlier that today’s meetings were simply to “get acquainted,” some substantive matters were discussed. He reportedly reiterated to the Israeli delegation Washington’s strong opposition to Israel’s settlements policy on the West Bank and Gaza Strip but agreed with Israel’s view that at this stage of the autonomy talks it was premature to discuss a possible future solution for those territories after the five-year autonomy period.

The Americans seemed to share Israel’s position that the talks, which resume in Alexandria Thursday, should deal with specifics such as the establishment of local administrative councils. Egypt has proposed that the agenda include a statement of “the aims and objectives” of autonomy.

Israel’s view was backed by legal opinions compiled by Meir Rosenne, legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry, who argued that several points in the Egyptian proposal go beyond the terms of reference set out for the autonomy talks in the Camp David accords and in the joint letter signed by President Anwar Sadat and Premier Menachem Begin which accompanied the Egyptian-Israeli peace.

After this evening’s meeting, Burg told reporters that his delegation had explained to Strauss why Israel could not accept Egypt’s proposal for a declaration of principles. “We found the American delegation good listeners,” Burg said. “They listened in order to learn. This does not mean that the day may not come when they will listen in order to teach,” he added. Strauss said after the meeting that he now understood the differences between the parties but could not elaborate before he heard the Egyptian side. He flies to Cairo tomorrow and will head the American delegation to the talks in Alexandria Thursday.

LETTER FROM CARTER TO BEGIN

This morning, Strauss brought a letter from President Carter to Begin. Its contents were not disclosed but the letter was described as “friendly” and Begin was reportedly pleased with it. Strauss said of his meeting with Begin. “I guess it was a rather philosophical talk than a talk with great specificity.” He added, “I find it very useful and I trust he (Begin) finds the same.”

Strauss met tonight with the leaders of various Knesset factions and members of its Foreign Affairs and Security Committee where he emphasized America’s awareness of Israel’s security needs in the implementation of the autonomy plan. “I want to assure you,” he said. “that President Carter may not see these needs eye-to-eye with you but he is more aware of them than anybody else I know,” Strauss said.

He expressed regret over press reports about the differences between Israel and the U.S. on the autonomy issue. “Where there is so much mutual esteem and shared values, these differences shrink,” Strauss said. He said a majority of American public opinion backs Israel unreservedly although there is a growing minority that supports the Egyptian position. Strauss quoted Carter as saying, when be assigned him to his mission, that “The peace in the Middle East is more important than my re-election.”

The American envoy will hold a press conference tomorrow following a second meeting with Begin. He will be taken on a helicopter tour of Judaea and Samaria for a view of the territories involved in the autonomy negotiations before leaving for Cairo in the afternoon. In addition to his diplomatic role, Strauss is Carter’s special trade representative.

DISCUSS ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF PEACE

In that capacity he met today with Minister of Commerce and Industry Gideon Patt and Arnon Gafni Governor of the Bank of Israel, to discuss the economic aspects of the peace process. He said afterwards: “I am certainly aware of the fact that as political negotiations go on, there is also an economic side to this….We should hold talks on the mutual problems we face today such as our problem of inflation and your problem of inflation.”

Strauss said he wanted to determine what kind of contribution the U.S. could make to the Middle East apart from the supply of “military hardware.” Gafni said he was optimistic about economic investments in the region as peace is achieved. “With the correct policy, we can see prospering economies with a high rate of industrialization,” he said. “It will take years, but it is important to begin this process as soon as possible.”

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