Linowitz Replacing Strauss As Carter’s Special Mideast Envoy

President Carter has selected diplomatic trouble shooter Sol Linowitz, who was instrumental in negotiating the Panama Canal Treaty, to replace Robert Strauss as his special Ambassador to the Middle East, it was learned today. An official announcement was made this afternoon by the White House.

A White House official said, however, that there would be a “transition period” the length of which still has to be worked out. White House officials said today that the President will name Strauss chairman of his reelection campaign committee. The 61-year-old Texan has been special envoy to the Middle East for only six months but was unable to devote full time to that job as he was serving simultaneously as the President’s chief trade negotiator.

Strauss, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is one of Carter’s strongest supporters. The White House officials said he would become the President’s chief fund-raiser and political strategist. In recent months he has appeared frequently at Jewish gatherings and he will host the United Jewish Appeal government employes’ division rally here on Dec. 19.

Linowitz, 65, a lawyer from Rochester, N.Y. and former board chairman of the Xerox Corp., has served in special diplomatic assignments for several American Presidents since Lyndon Johnson appointed him Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS). He is chairman of the board of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a member of the board of the American Jewish Committee.

SIGNIFICANCE OF REPLACEMENT

Political analysts here speculated that the replacement of Strauss by Linowitz indicated that Carter will not attempt to take the “hard decisions” in the Middle East negotiations that are being advocated with increasing volume by elements within his foreign affairs establishment. Those elements are expressing the view that the present difficulties of Premier Menachem Begin’s government offer an opportunity to press for Israeli concessions on Palestinian and other issues.

During his six months as special envoy, Strauss took the position of refusing to impose Administration concepts on the Begin government: When he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on the Middle East on Oct. 23, he came under fire from critics who cited his statement that “not one iota of an agreement” has been reached in the Israeli-Egyptian talks on autonomy for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Strauss had said that it “may be impossible” to reach an agreement by next May, the deadline set by the Camp David accords and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. However, he said, if only a partial agreement was reached, it would be a success because of the complexity of the issues involved.

Political analysts noted that although Linowitz is a highly respected diplomat with wide experience, he will require time to learn the details and nuances of the Middle East situation and to gain the confidence of the Israelis, Egyptians and other elements in the region. Political analysts in Congress observed that some disappointment would be felt by both Democrats and Republicans at the change-over.

Some Democrats believe that Strauss had a chance to bring Egypt and Israel into some kind of agreement by next spring. Republicans say the President is putting his campaign ahead of the national interest by replacing Strauss at this time.

A MAJOR QUESTION

A key Congressional source noted that as special envoy to the Middle East, Strauss was directly responsible to the President. A major question, the source said, is whether Linowitz will have the same position or whether he would be subject to the views of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

A newspaper report published here yesterday and attributed to a State Department official said that Strauss wanted to be relieved of his Middle East assignment because he was frustrated and facing failure. A source close to Strauss said such statements were “beneath contempt and dignified comment.”

Linowitz is highly regarded in Washington. He was among the “wise men” who advised the President in the controversy over the presence of Soviet combat troops in Cuba in September. He was among the diplomats under consideration to replace Andrews Young as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and was also being considered for the post of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

NEXT STORY