Washington (Dec. 2)
The State Department strongly denied today that the memo
random of understanding the United States signed with Israel this week bars the U.S. from being either a mediator or arbitrator in the Middle East peace process.
Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Halim Khaddam reportedly made this charge yesterday to Philip Habib, President Reagan’s special envoy, after the U.S. diplomat arrived in Damascus. “The United States no longer has the right to play any mediation or arbitration role in the Arab-Israeli conflict because you have become a direct party to this conflict,” Khaddam reportedly told Habib.
State Department spokesman Alan Romberg said today he had no comment on the Habib mission which started in Lebanon last weekend. But he said the memorandum of understanding which implements the strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel does not “affect” the U.S. “ability to deal in the peace-making process.” He noted that “we have a variety of relationships with a variety of countries in the region.”
Romberg said it was “explicit” in the memorandum, signed by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon Monday night that it was not aimed at “any state in the region.” Both Sharon and U.S. officials stressed this week that the cooperation agreement is not against Israel’s Arab enemies but only a threat to the “region” from the Soviet Union and “Soviet-supported forces outside the region.”
MEMO REFERS TO CUBA AND EAST GERMANY
State Department spokesman Dean Fischer was vague yesterday about which countries fall into the latter category. But Pentagon spokesman Henry Catto said that Cuba and East Germany were among the countries Israel and the U.S. were referring to in the memorandum.
Romberg reiterated today that there are no secret annexes in the agreement. He said that Sharon made it clear before hastily returning to Israel yesterday to vote against no confidence motions that only some details which will be worked out by the working committee to implement the memorandum might be “classified.”
UNAWARE OF SAUDI OFFER
Meanwhile, Romberg said he was “unaware of any such offer” by Saudi Arabia to Oman as reported today in The Washington Post in which the Saudis were said to have offered Oman $1.2 billion in aid if the Sultinate cancelled an agreement allowing the U.S. access to its military facilities.
Romberg would not say that the Post story was wrong, only that “to our knowledge it is not happening.” But he added that because of the “close nature” of U.S. and Saudi relations, the Saudis were kept informed of the agreement as it was being worked out between the U.S. and Oman and the Saudis “did not object.”
Oman is the only Persian Gulf state to grant the U.S. use of its military facilities. Saudi Arabia has refused to do so despite the sale of five AWACS reconnaissance planes and enhancement equipment for 62 F-15 jet warplanes previously bought by Saudi Arabia from the U.S.