Washington (Aug. 13)
Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron emerged from a meeting with Secretary of State Alexander Haig today declaring that he was “optimistic” that Israel would be getting the planes whose delivery has been held up by the United States.
“I leave him (Haig) feeling optimistic that the issue will be resolved early next week,” Evron told reporters waiting for him in the State Department lobby.
The envoy would not say whether Haig had told him that the 10 F-16s and the two F-15s held up would be released. But Evron, who in recent weeks has been emerging from his State Department meetings looking dour, was smiling today.
He said the decision would be made by President Reagan Monday or Tuesday in California where the President is vacationing. This was reaffirmed earlier today by State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg who reiterated his earlier announcement that Reagan would make the decision next week.
Haig is expected to go to California although it is not certain whether it will just be to discuss the planes with Reagan or to deal with other issues at a meeting of the National Security Council.
NO ASSURRANCES BY ISRAEL
Evron stressed that he did not provide the U.S. with any assurances on how Israel would use the planes. “I don’t think anything was expected of us” he declared.
Four F-16s were held up for delivery to Israel after Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor June 7 and six more were added to the embargo after Israel’s July 17 raid on terrorist headquarters in Beirut.
This week, Romberg announced that no planes would be delivered to Israel until the President made his decision, including the first two of the 15 F-15s that were scheduled to be delivered to Israel this week. Also included were four more F-16s which were reportedly scheduled to leave the factory in Fort Worth, Texas tomorrow.
Evron said he had gone to see Haig today because of the additional embargoes announced this week. He said he repeated to the Secretary that Israel believes the suspensions are “unjust, unhelpful” and that the “planes should be released.”
Meanwhile it was reported that during Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Washington last week, the Egyptians asked for 100 to 150 more F-16s. The Egyptians have already ordered 40 of the fighter-bomber jets.
The U.S. Air Force grounded the F-16s this week to correct a mechanical failure discovered after a pilot was killed when one of the planes crashed in Utah last week. The Pentagon reportedly expects the failure to be corrected by next week. Israel and several other countries which have bought F-16s have in the meantime “voluntarily” grounded the planes.
In other Mideast developments, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Carter’s National Security advisor, told a group of reporters yesterday that the U.S. should end its boycott of the Palestine Liberation Organization and “talk” to the PLO. He said he was not advocating formal recognition or negotiations but “some form of dialogue with the PLO which encourages it to be more moderate and which leads to the engagement of the PLO in solving the West Bank and Gaza Strip issues.” But he added: “When I say talk to the PLO, I don’t say turn our backs on Israel.”
Brzezinski, now a senior advisor at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S.-Israeli agreement of 1975 which bans U.S. contacts with the PLO should not bar all contact with it. The agreement, concluded by the then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, was offered to Israel as part of its disengagement agreement with Egypt. Commenting on that, Brzezinski said: “To elevate a personal plege by a Secretary of State into a sacrosanct and eternally binding document is to reduce one’s flexibility.”
However, when Haig was asked about the U.S. position, after addressing the American Bar Association in New Orleans earlier this week, he said that the U.S. commitment not to deal with the PLO “is firm, it remains firm and I see no possibility of its being modified in the days ahead.” He said that when this commitment was explained to Sadat, who urged the U.S. to drop its pledge to Israel not to meet with the PLO, Sadat understood that commitment “and I believe accepts it.”