WASHINGTON (Aug. 2)
The State Department denied categorically today reports from Israel that the United States has taken a position directly contrary to that of Israel on the nature of autonomy for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip currently under negotiations between Israel and Egypt with American participation.
“The stories are premature because they suggest we have taken a position one way or another,” Department spokesman Tom Reston said today. He also denied a news report in New York today that the U.S. was acting in the autonomy talks under pressure by the Arab oil-producing states for swift progress.
Reston addressed himself to reports on Israeli television and radio last night alleging that the American representative at the autonomy talks, James Leonard, had, on instructions from Washington, submitted certain proposals known to be totally unacceptable to Israel during this week’s meeting of the Israeli-Egyptian autonomy working groups in Alexandria.
“What is being done is the making of lists of subjects that will need to be covered in each of the actual steps of the negotiations,” Reston said. “The U.S. has tried to help the two sides reach agreement on the list of subjects but we have not sent any substantive positions….Any reports that you will see that the U.S. is advancing any opinions are simply wrong.”
Elaborating on that point, Reston said: “We have not said exactly how we think the thing (autonomy) should look in the future. There are a number of issues which are left to be discussed in the plenary session” (of the ministerial autonomy committee). “The subject of the negotiations is what are the arrangements going to look like in the future at the end of these negotiations and certain subject areas are going to be addressed…. We have not said this is what we want or what it has got to look like…. That is the mandate of the working groups–not to negotiate exactly what it is going to look like.”
On the reported threat by the Arab states to cut back in oil production this fall if good progress is not made on autonomy, Reston said “I think the Administration has said recently that the U.S. is not going to do anything in these negotiations based on our need for oil. Ambassador Robert Strauss (President Carter’s special envoy to the Middle East) in this week’s U.S. News and World Report, has said it again….He speaks for the Administration.”
Reston had no information as to when the foreign ministers of Israel and Egypt will meet in Washington to discuss the issue of the future peacekeeping force in Sinai.