Washington (Dec. 20)
Secretary of State Alexander Haig today publicly tried to smooth over difficulties between the United States and Israel only hours after Premier Menachem Begin strongly attacked the Reagan Administration for suspending the strategic cooperation agreement recently signed between the two countries.
“Israel has been, is today and will remain a close friend of the U.S.,” Haig said in an appearance on the CBS-TV “Face the Nation” program. He said that President Reagan, probably more than his predecessors, understood the “vital importance of our obligations to the people of Israel and guarantees to the survival of that state. Nothing has changed.”
Haig said the long-standing U.S. policy toward Israel has been in the “interests” not only of Israel but of the U.S. He said the task now was for American diplomacy to work to resolve the problems, “not exacerbate them.”
However, Haig denied that his remarks were a “whitewash” of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights last week. He noted that the U.S. had condemned the action, voted in the UN Security Council for a resolution calling on Israel to rescind it and had suspended the strategic cooperation agreement with Israel.
But now, he said, the leaders of both countries have to work together to “repar the damage” and move ahead with the peace process. He said the U.S. condemned the Israeli action on the Golan Heights because it put the peace process “in jeopardy.”
WEINBERGER TAKES HARSH LINE
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, while also saying it was essential for the U.S. to have “close working relations” with Israel and with “moderate Arab governments,” took a harsher line toward Israel than Haig.
Appearing on the ABC-TV “This Week With David Brinkley” program, Weinberger said it is essential for the U.S. to be perceived as pursuing the peace process in the Middle East and it cannot condone unilateral action by one side even if that side is a close friend like Israel. He said the U.S. has to “bring home to the world” that the “cost” of actions such as the annexation of the Golan Heights and Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor last June, cannot be condoned.
Weinberger maintained that Israel had violated both the “spirit and the letter” of UN Security Council Resolution 242 which, he said, requires the future of the Golan Heights and other territories conquered by Israel in 1967 to be solved by negotiations. When columnist George Will remarked that if Israel had violated the spirit of the law, Syria had “repealed” it by its refusal to negotiate with Israel, Weinberger replied that a wrong by one side does not justify a wrong by another.
Weinberger conceded that the memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation which he and Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon signed on November 30 does not require Israel to give the U.S. advance notification of its actions. But, he said the alliance between the U.S. and Israel implies that each country would not take action affecting the other without prior notification.
In an appearance on the NBC-TV “Meet the Press” program today, White House Counsellor Edwin Meese said Israel probably did not notify the U.S. in advance because it knew the U.S. would have opposed its move. Both Haig and Meese said they did not expect Israel to move into south Lebanon against Palestinian bases there.