Israel Asks for Clarification from Washington Regarding Muskie’s Reply to a Question About the PLO

The American Embassy in Tel Aviv moved quickly today to dampen a burgeoning row between Israel and the U.S., triggered by a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report yesterday of Secretary of State Edmund Muskie’s reply to a question about the Palestine Liberation Organization at a meeting of the Foreign Policy Association in New York.

The Israeli government has urgently requested “clarification” from Washington on the basis of the report which quoted Muskie as stating that the U.S. would have to recognize the PLO at some point. The Embassy released the full text of Muskie’s remarks at the question-and-answer session purporting to show that the Secretary did not make the statement attributed to him.

(The State Department’s chief spokesman, John Trattner, said in reply to questions in Washington today that Muskie “did not mention the PLO in answer to the question.”)

The question, put by Time magazine editor-in-chief Henry Grunwald, was: “Has anything changed in the (Mideast) situation since the visit of King Hussein to Washington and are we closer to recognizing, or feeling the need to recognize, the PLO?”

Muskie began his reply, according to the text released by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, by saying, “What we must, do at some point of course is to broaden the negotiating base to include representatives of the Palestinian people and the other countries in the area. For the moment, that broadening does not seem possible.”

USUAL QUALIFICATION ABSENT

But, according to the transcript obtained by the JTA in Washington, Muskie said: “Perhaps we must do it at some point, of course, to broaden the negotiating base to include representatives of the Palestinian people in the other countries of the area. For the moment, that broadening does not seem to be possible.”

The Embassy transcript did show, however, that Muskie did not offer the qualification voiced by previous Secretaries of State in response to similar questions — that the PLO must first recognize Israel’s right to exist and accept UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

U.S. diplomats in Tel Aviv observed in that connection that had the Secretary intended to introduce a major change in U.S. policy (toward the PLO) he would hardly have done so by an act of omission in a rambling and discursive statement of this kind.

In the course of his lengthy reply, Muskie defended the Camp David process from “complaints from Arab countries, the left and right, from our European friends and others that we are not getting anywhere.” He stressed that “this is the only process that has gotten anywhere.”

He spoke of the tough nature of the issues being dealt with in the autonomy talks and observed that “If the parties manage to press that process to an agreement, then the challenge will be to broaden the negotiating base to bring in others.” But, he added, “I think we are going to have to achieve something more by way of an agreement, especially with respect to autonomy, before we have any prospect of broadening the base.”

U.S. SEES NO BROADENING NOW

(Commenting on that matter at the State Department today, Trattner said “For the moment” he saw no broadening. Replying to a question about including representatives of the Palestinian people in the process, he said whether if “will include people you describe would depend in large part on the attitude of the PLO on Israel’s right to exist and Security Council Resolution 242.”

(Asked if “representatives of the Palestinian people” was Muskie’s way of saying the PLO, Trattner replied, “not necessarily.” He said. Muskie’s response yesterday “meets the standard and criteria” of what the State Department has been saying with relation to what Muskie hopes may develop. “But at the moment it is not a possibility.”)

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