NEW YORK (Jul. 11)
Robert Strauss, President Carter’s special Middle East envoy, maintained last night that Saudi Arabia’s promise to increase oil production was not linked in any way to the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Egypt for Palestinian autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Saudis “asked for nothing,” Strauss said when he was questioned on the subject in an interview on the Public Broadcasting Service’s “Mac-Neil/Lehrer Report.” He said that he and Saudi Crown Prince Fahd had discussed the differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia over the Palestinian issue but Fahd made it clear he was not linking oil production to the political issue.
Fahd said he wanted to demonstrate that the Soudis are a “responsible suppliers of oil to the world,” Strauss explained. He said he believed that the Saudis had planned to increase production before he visited Riyaah last week but found it convenient to give him the message to take back to President Carter.
Strauss indicated that the increased production may not necessarily be the one million barrels a day reported in the press. He said he knew the correct figure but the U.S. wanted to let the Saudis make the announcement themselves. Strauss added that he believed that the increased production would be for more than the reported three months.
On the autonomy talks which he attended in Alexandria; Egypt, last week, Strauss said the agreement between Israel and Egypt to establish working parties, for which he is credited, advanced the negotiations “one-half of one percent of the job.” He said the negotiations will be “long, protracted, difficult, hard.” Strauss reiterated the U.S. position on the talks by saying, “I hope the two parties will be able to make a good deal of progress on their own.” He said his “job” was to “step in” when progress slowed down.
Strauss said he did not meet with any Palestinians on his trip to the Middle East because “I didn’t have the time.” He said he has met with Palestinians in the past and wants to meet with others, adding “non-PLO.” Strauss revealed his wife, Helen, did what no official visitor had done before and that was to visit a Palestinian refugee camp. He added that it was his hope that the Palestinians would join in the autonomy negotiations.