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Carter: Israel, Egypt Committed to Continuing the Peace Process

Former President Jimmy Carter said that he had “no doubt” that both Israel and Egypt are committed to continuing the peace process and are ready now to “move aggressively” toward negotiating an autonomy agreement for the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Carter, interviewed Monday night on ABC-TV’s “Nightline” program from Plains, Ga. stressed that for an autonomy agreement to be achieved requires the U.S. to place “the full weight and prestige of the White House, the President and the Secretary of State” behind the effort.

The former President, who helped Israel and Egypt negotiate the Camp David agreements and their subsequent peace treaty, said he had “extensive telephone conversations” Monday with Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

He said both had assured him that with Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai completed, they were “absolutely committed on their words of honor, backed by their own parliaments and their nations, to carry out the Camp David accords.”

Carter rejected the nation that there was pessimism in Egypt and Israel last Sunday, the day Egypt regained full control of Sinai. He said both Israel and Egypt want peace; Egypt has the Sinai back and Israel can only be relieved that Egypt, without which no Arab country can make war on it is now “friends” with Israel. But he conceded there had been sadness because of the absence of Anwar Sadat whose assassination last October “left a vacuum which could not have been possible to fill.”

The return of Sinai to Egypt was the “first step and might even be the most difficult step” in the effort to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, Carter said. He said that now the U.S., Israel and Egypt have no other “agenda” than seeking an autonomy agreement.

Carter maintained that if the three countries could come up with an acceptable formula, the Palestinians might be persuaded to accept it. He said the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinians had “made a very serious mistake” by refusing to join the talks. He also noted the PLO chief Yasir Arafat was mistaken in not accepting the U.S. conditions of recognizing Israel’s right to exist and accepting UN Security Council Resolution 242.

Carter said that during his Administration he had contacts with the PLO through third parties such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. He said the Camp David agreements did not bar PLO members from participating in the negotiations, either in the guise of West Bank municipal officials or as members of one of the delegations from Arab countries.

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