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Veliotes: U.S. Helping Israel, Egypt Overcome Suspicions and Concerns

Nicholas Veliotes, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs, said today that the U.S. is presently trying to help Israel and Egypt overcome their “suspicions” and “concerns” as they implement the final stage of their peace treaty.

But Veliotes stressed that he is “very confident” that April 25, the day Israel is scheduled to complete its withdrawal from Sinai, will “mark a new beginning” for Israeli-Egyptian relations. He said he is also confident that the peace treaty will be “fully implemented,” stressing that the U.S. is the “guarantor” of the treaty.

Veliotes, who was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs on the Reagan Administration’s proposed foreign aid for the Middle East and South Asia in fiscal year 1983, said the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is the “basis for U.S. policy for peace and security in the Middle East” and is also accepted by Israel and Egypt as the basis for their policies.

SAYS DIFFICULTIES HAVE BEEN EXAGGERATED

The State Department official who just returned from Israel and Egypt, said the attempt to ease the concerns of the two countries was the reason for his recent trip there and why Deputy Secretary of State Walter Stoessel Jr. is in Israel now and will later go to Egypt.

But he stressed that the last minute difficulties between the two countries had been “exaggerated,” an assessment with which Sen. Rudy Baschwitz (R. Minn.), the subcommittee chairman who conducted the hearings, was in agreement.

Veliotes stressed that no one should “be surprised there are concerns” in Israel and Egypt with the implementation of the peace treaty. He said that although Israel has already established diplomatic relations with Egypt and has begun the normalization process, it still feels it is taking “a step into the unknown.”

Boschwitz noted that Israel is giving up strategic depth for a treaty in an area where treaties have not always been as “meaningful” as they are for the U.S. But he expressed the hope that the peace process will be expanded to include Jordan and other Arab countries.

Veliotes agreed that treaties have not been “worth much” in the Middle East. “But this is the first treaty between Israel and a major Arab country, any Arab country,” he said. He stressed that the U.S. did not only play a role in achieving the treaty but is “really the guarantor” of the treaty.

Boschwitz expressed concern over the arms race going on in the Middle East in which not only the U.S. but many other countries take part. He said many low population countries in the Middle East were accumulating more arms than NATO, “This adds to the military and economic strains in the region,” he said.

Veliotes replied that arms sales are part of the overall approach but “by no means the only element” of U.S. foreign policy. He said the Middle East is a “volatile and potentially-dangerous place” and the countries there believe they need weapons. He said that outside the Israel-Arab conflict, many of those countries see threats to themselves from neighboring countries which receive huge supplies of arms.

Throughout his testimony, Veliotes stressed that the U.S. aid program is aimed at maintaining Israel’s “technical” and “qualitative edge,” two terms he said are synonymous. He said in the foreseeable future, Israel has a qualitative edge over the Arab countries.

ARAB EDGE OVER ISRAEL DIMINISHED

Francis West, Assistant Secretary of Defense for international Security, said the Arab quantitative edge over Israel has diminished. He said it is now 5-1 against Israel instead of 6-1 as previously. He said one reason is the cost of weapons is so high that many countries cannot afford to buy as much as they might want. He also observed that with the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Israel no longer has to worry about its southern flank.

West also made a pitch for arms sales to Jordan. He noted that there were difficulties with Jordan since it was a confrontation state with Israel. But at the same time, he pointed out that Jordan is considered a friend of the U.S. and faces the danger of attack from Syria.

Both Boschwitz and Sen, Paul Sarbanes (D. Md.), the only other Committee member at the hearings, were critical of the Reagan Administration’s decision to change foreign aid appropriations for fiscal 1983 even though they had been already approved by Congress. Last December, Congress approved a foreign aid bill for both the current fiscal year and fiscal 1983 which begins October 1, something it had never done before.

CRITICAL OF CUTTING AID

The two Senators were particularly critical of the Administration’s proposal to decrease the amount of aid that will be given to Israel and Egypt as grants in fiscal 1983. Veliotes said the reason was to “balance” efforts to supply Israel and Egypt with the Administration’s “general budgetary problems.”

Joseph Wheeler, Deputy Administrator of the Agency for International Development (AID), said this year Israel is getting $785 million in economic aid and Egypt $750 million, all of it grants. But in 1983, only two thirds of the amounts for the two countries will be in grants.

Israel will receive in 1983 $1.7 billion in military assistance, a $300 million increase over this year. But Wheeler said the amount to be a grant to Israel in 1983 will be $500 million, $50 million less than in the current budget. The Administration has proposed $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt in 1983, a $400 million increase. Of that amount, $400 million will be a grant, twice the amount as last year.

David Sadd, executive director of the National Association of Arab Americans, denounced what he called the “disproportionate amount of foreign aid going to Israel. “He said that although Israel has the highest per capita gross national product of any country receiving U.S. aid in the Middle East, it “will receive a higher amount of aid than any other recipient nation.” He urged increased funding for programs the U.S. supports on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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