WASHINGTON (Nov. 19)
Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.), who will be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the next Congress, stressed the view today that there can be no peace in the Middle East without a solution of the Palestinian problem and that the U.S. must take a “very serious” intermediary role to find one.
He also reiterated his long standing opposition to Israeli Premier Menachem Begin’s settlement policies which, he said, have not “been conducive to the peace process.”
Percy offered his views in a statement and in response to questions at a press conference at the Capital in which he covered such subjects as U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia, the role of human rights in foreign policy and future peace efforts in the Middle East.
“Obviously, Middle East peace is essential to the security of our country and many, many other countries,” Percy said. He predicted that the Reagan Administration will give it “a very high order of priority.”
NO DEFINITIVE POSITION BY REAGAN’S AIDES
Asked if Reagan aides have indicated their views to him on Middle East matters, Percy said “I have not had a definitive position taken by them as to the next step. I think that will all come after the confirmation hearings for Secretary of State, when we have that team in place. The Secretary for Middle East Affairs must also be confirmed so we’re not down the road for enough to start that process.” He added, “I don’t have any insight as to what their next step will be other than it is a matter of very high priority.”
Expressing his own views in response to questions’, Percy said the Palestinians were misperceived in this country with respect to their numbers and who they are. “An unlikely perception in some quarters, even in this country, is that the Palestinians are a relatively small group, terrorists and so forth,” Percy said.
“But the Palestinians are scattered all over the Middle East — three-and-a-half million people; they are highly educated. They are professionals, they are doctors, lawyers, diplomats. But they yearn for a resolution of this problem. We cannot and will not have peace in the Middle East until we recognize that it must be solved,” he said.
At another point, Percy remarked, “I have always known that some solution must be found to the Palestinian problem. I have taken the position against the settlement policy of the Begin administration and I made it very clear to them. I have not felt that this has been conducive to the peace process. But I think there have been things on both sides that have not been helpful.”
Percy added, “It is hoped now that the new Administration can really focus in on this problem… We will have to act as we have acted in the last four years as an intermediary group that would take a very serious role in trying to resolve this problem because it does involve our own vital interests.”
THE PLO, ARMS TO SAUDI ARABIA
Asked if he saw any resolution of the Palestinian problem without recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Percy replied: “All I would say is what I said when I left the Middle East five years ago that there would be no real peace in the Middle East unless we recognize that a solution must be found to that problem.”
Asked if he favored the supply of enhanced weapons to Saudi Arabia in view of the Soviet presence in the Middle East, Percy recalled that he had supported weapons sales in the last Congress with the appropriate restrictions. “In this case, the Administration should take the initiative. The initiative should not be taken by Congress,” he said. “I would like for the new Administration to take a look at it and send the legislation down.”
Questioned about the weight the new Congress will place on human rights in foreign policy, Percy said “I think it appropriate and right in an international forum … But I don’t think it (human rights) ought to be a preoccupation. It is not the sale foreign policy objective and it must take its place with higher priorities.”