WASHINGTON (Feb. 18)
Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, is preparing to meet his Soviet counterpart, Vladimir Polykov, in Vienna tomorrow, for two days of talks on the Middle East which the State Department here is emphasizing will be “exchange” of views and not any form of negotiations.
A State Department official, briefing reporters on the upcoming meetings, said that the United States has assured Israel and the Arab countries that the U.S. and the Soviet Union are not coming together “to impose a U.S.-Soviet plan on the area.” The U.S. remains committed to direct negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries, the official said.
Ambassador Meir Rosenne raised Israel’s concerns about the Vienna meeting when he met with Murphy last Wednesday. An Israel Embassy spokesman would not comment on whether Rosenne had felt reassured by Murphy’s explanation of the U.S. approach toward the meeting.
This should be viewed in the “context of the management of U.S.-Soviet relations rather than in the context of the Middle East”, the State Department official said Friday. He said its purpose is “to help avoid miscalculations and to reduce the potential risk of U.S.-Soviet confrontation.”
The official added that the Vienna meeting will have served its purpose if “we have a better understanding of what Soviet views are, and for them to understand better what our views are.” He said this “is in both our interests.”
U.S. TO RAISE FOUR TOPICS
The U.S. will raise four topics: Arab-Israel issues, which is expected to be the major subject discussed; south Lebanon; Afghanistan; and the Iran-Iraq war, the official said. But he stressed the meeting will not be negotiations nor an attempt to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union, nor a “precursor” for an international conference, nor is it expected to change either the U.S. or Soviet positions on the Mideast.
In keeping with the Reagan Administration’s efforts to downplay the Vienna meeting, Murphy will return to Washington rather than going to the Mideast to brief the various governments about the talks. The official stressed that when Murphy next goes to the region, it will not be in connection with the Vienna talks.
The State Department official said that while the agreement reached by King Hussein of Jordan and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat on negotiations is expected to come up in Vienna, it will not be in an important part of the talks. But the official said that the U.S. does expect to raise their call for an international conference to negotiate a comprehensive Mideast peace settlement.
The international conference, opposed by both Israel and the U.S., is seen as a vehicle the USSR hopes to use to get itself back into the Mideast peace process. “We don’t deny the Soviets have interests in the area,” the official said. But he added they have not played a helpful role in the Mideast and “for them to play a helpful role there has to be a revolution really in their position.”
SOVIETS HAVE TO DEMONSTRATE THEIR SINCERITY
The State Department official said one way the Soviets could demonstrate their “sincerity” would be to resume diplomatic relations with Israel and another could be in the improvement of the treatment of Soviet Jews. The official said that the condition of Soviet Jews “is one of the indicators of the Soviet attitude toward playing a truly disinterested role in the context of the Middle East; not directly, but indirectly.”
The official also provided some background on the talks, explaining that for two years the U.S. had told the Soviet Union it was interested in discussing regional issues, including the Mideast. This was reiterated by President Reagan in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September.
But the Soviet Union showed no interest in discussing the Mideast until several weeks before the start of last month’s arms control talks in Geneva between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, the State Department official said. The Vienna meeting was arranged after the Geneva talks.