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U.S. Says Its Envoy to Syria Did Not Speak for Administration when He Attacked Begin’s Policies

The State Department stressed today that it did not agree with the assertion by a retiring U.S. Ambassador that peace could not be achieved in the Middle East as long as Premier Menachem Begin remains in office.

Department spokesman Dean Fischer said that Talcott Seelye was “not speaking for the Administration” when he made his statements in Damascus just prior to leaving his post as U.S. Ambassador to Syria. “He was reflecting his own personal views,” Fischer said. Interviewed by reporters just hours before he left

Damascus to begin a retirement after more than 30 years in the foreign service, Seelye gave two reasons for his belief that Begin was an obstacle to peace. “In my view it is impossible to expect Begin to divest Israel of the West Bank and secondly because he is totally blind to the Palestinian imperative in any peace agreement,” Seelye said.

Fischer said, “yes” when he was asked directly if progress could be made toward peace while Begin was in office. He said, “no” when asked if the Administration felt that Begin had a “blind spot” toward the Palestinians.

Fischer rejected claims in the news reports from Damascus that Seelye was retiring after 32 years because pressure from the (Israeli lobby) had kept the Administration from offering him a new post. Fischer noted that Seelye was “retiring after a long and distinguished foreign service career.” He said he did not know of any complaints about Seelye from Israel. A State Department source said later that there was no evidence that Seelye had not wanted to retire.

Seelye, who was born in Beirut, where his father was the president of the American University of Beirut, has served in Jordan, Kurwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia as well as Syria. After a vacation in Europe, he reportedly will return to the United States and become a private consultant on the Middle East.

Seelye also said yesterday that the Camp David talks should be replaced by a new U.S. initiative which should include a “dialogue” with the Palestine Liberation Organization. He said the 1975 commitment by then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger “did not preclude a dialogue with the PLO, it only precludes negotiations and recognition.”

While Fischer did not address himself to this aspect of Seelye’s comments, the spokesman said only yesterday that the U.S. continued to maintain its policy of non-recognition of the PLO.

The new U.S. envoy to Syria will be Robert Paganelli, a former Ambassador to Qatar.

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