President Reagan has denied that the U.S. cancelled its month-old strategic cooperation agreement with Israel when his Administration announced on December 18 that it was suspended, four days after Israel annexed the Golan Heights.
The President, who made his remarks in an interview with the Miami Herald published today, did not predict when the suspension would be lifted. But he appeared to reject Premier Menachem Begin’s contention, in a blistering attack last Sunday on U.S. behavior toward Israel, that the agreement is now null and void. Begin had accused the U.S. of “abrogating” the pact.
Speaking to the Herald’s Washington Bureau chief before leaving on his Christmas vacation, Reagan took a conciliatory approach toward Begin. He said the Israeli Premier’s criticism of the U.S. was “a little harsh” but added, “Friends sometimes have arguments and I guess this is one of them.”
ARENS: U.S. TILTING TOWARDS SAUDIS
The interview was published shortly after Israel’s Ambassador-designate to the U.S. Moshe Arens, expressed strong criticism of the U.S. Middle East policy in a radio interview in Jerusalem over the weekend and claimed that American “punitive activities” against Israel are unprecedented
According to Arens, a Herut hardliner who is chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, the U.S. is moving away from the Camp David accords and closer to the Saudi Arabian position as stated in Crown Prince Fahd’s eight-point plan first enunciated last August and flatly rejected by Israel.
“The way I perceive American actions and American policy is that the U.S., in effect, decided to adopt the Saudi Arabian position on Middle East issues,” Arens said. “When they do that I think they do not really realize the Saudi Arabians do not have any positions of their own. They are the positions of the Palestine Liberation Organization or (Col. Muammar) Qaddafi (of Libya) or Syria because the Saudis feel they have to give in to the threat of the most extreme people in the Arab camp. That is the reason they bankroll the PLO and other extremist elements.”
He claimed that “The Americans have mistakenly come to the view that Saudi Arabia is a moderate country and a stable country which can make a con
tribution to the peace process. There is nothing further from the truth. What is most serious is that the U.S. seems to have decided to put pressure on Israel to accept the Saudi position and this probably involves moving away from the Camp David accords.”
DEFENDS BEGIN’S ATTACK
Arens defended Begin’s angry attack on the U.S. which he delivered on December 20 after Washington suspended the strategic cooperation agreement. He said someone other than Begin might have used a “different tone.” But he contended that Begin’s bitter recriminations against the U.S. were justified because “such discriminatory and punitive action is usually reserved for states already at war or on the verge of hostilities.” According to Arens, he could recall nothing like them since the freezing of Japanese assets in the U.S. shortly before Pearl Harbor.
Arens said Washington’s measures would be counter-productive and would only stiffen Israel’s resolve not to budge on an issue vital to its security.
SHARP WORDS FROM SHARON
Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon also had sharp words for the U.S. in a weekend interview published in Yediot Achronot. He said that by suspending the strategic cooperation agreement, which he signed with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger November 30, “The United States had decided to try to force Israel to return to the 1967 borders after April, 1982” when its withdrawl from Sinai becomes final.
He said Israel had moved to extend its law to the Golan Heights in order to make it clear that it will never return to the 1967 borders. The American response, he said, was a breach of the strategic cooperation understanding. There was nothing in the agreement which allowed for its postponement or cancellation, which makes America’s unilateral action all the more serious, Sharon said. But according to Sharon, the agreement remains in effect and there were signs that Israel’s firm stand would lead to its implementation.
The State Department declined to comment on Sharon’s remarks. Officials in Washington said privately that the strategic cooperation agreement was not cancelled but only that talks aimed at its implementation had been postponed. They said there has been no change in U.S. policy toward the territories occupied by Israel, including the Golan Heights. That policy is that the future status of those territories must be determined by negotiations.
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, arrived in Israel today for a three-day visit as part of a Middle East tour. He declined to talk to reporters at Ben Gurion Airport, but Israeli officials said he would meet with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir tomorrow and with Begin and Sharon on Tuesday. Percy is also scheduled to confer with Labor Party leader Shimon Peres and former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. His next stop on the tour will be Jordan.