WASHINGTON (Jan. 14)
The United States has told the Soviet Union it would like to discuss the Middle East and other regional issues but no agreement has been made to hold such talks, the State Department said today.
Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said that Secretary of State George Shultz, in his talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Geneva last week, “noted U.S. interest in holding” such talks but said an agreement for the talks by Mideast experts from the two countries would have to be scheduled through diplomatic channels.
But Kalb stressed that the U.S. still opposed an international conference, which would include the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the Middle East proposed by the Soviet Union because it believes the best way to achieve peace is direct negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. Kalb, who accompanied Shultz in Geneva, made his debut today as the spokesman at the daily State Department briefing after years of sitting on the opposite side as an NBC and CBS television reporter.
Kalb’s comments came after he was questioned about published reports that R. Mark Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, went to Israel and Egypt last week to tell the two governments that the U.S. and the Soviet Union plan to hold talks on the Mideast. But Kalb said he “understood” that Palmer went to Jerusalem and Cairo to brief the two governments about the results of the Geneva talks on nuclear disarmament.
The spokesman noted that President Reagan, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last September, “noted our interest in policy level discussions about regional problems with the Soviets. We would include the Middle East as a possible area of discussion. As the President said — the objectives of such a political dialogue are to help avoid miscalculations, reduce the potential risk of U.S.-Soviet confrontation and help the people in the areas of conflict to find peaceful solutions.”
Reading from a statement on this issue, Kalb added: “We have continually urged the Soviets to take a constructive approach toward the efforts to find peaceful solutions to regional problems. In this connection, we continue to believe that such an international conference is not a productive approach in the search for peace.
“The only realistic path to peace is direct negotiations among the parties directly concemed based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, a process the U.S. has encouraged in the Camp David accords and President Reagan’s September 1, 1982 initiative.”
Asked what the U.S. position on the Mideast is now, Kalb replied, “The United States is ready to resume its role as co-partner in the search for peace in the Middle East whenever the parties are prepared to negotiate. We remain committed to the conditions set forth in the President’s September 1, 1982 initiative and on the basis of those positions we would work with the parties to achieve a negotiated settlement.”