NEW YORK (Jul. 25)
Thomas Pickering, the new U.S. Ambassador to Israel, told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations yesterday that the Reagan Administration was seeking to work out a “package deal” between Israel and Egypt that would return the Egyptian Ambassador to Tel Aviv and warm up the “cold peace” between the two countries.
In a friendly meeting — his sole appearance before a Jewish group prior to his departure for Israel — Pickering also said that the U.S. would continue to help promote direct talks among Israel, Jordan and a representative Palestinian delegation.
“Our main objective is to promote direct Arab-Israel talks” he said, adding, “We are here to help but we understand that the primary decisions must be made by the countries themselves.”
Presidents Conference chairman Kenneth Bialkin, in introducing the new American envoy, praised him as “a wise and experienced diplomat, a warm friend of Israel and the Jewish people and a man who I believe will prove himself to be a worthy successor to the distinguished ambassador whom he succeeds, Sam Lewis.”
Some 75 representatives of Presidents Conference member-organizations took part in the meeting. Many of them said later they were impressed with the new Ambassador’s grasp of issues and his sophistication in dealing with such sensitive questions as U.S. arms sales to Jordan and U.S. dealings with the Palestine National Council, parent body of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
On the request of King Hussein for F-20 jet fighters, Stinger missiles and other lethal weapons, Pickering said the White House was considering a position paper on the request but had not yet come to a decision.
Responding to a question on the composition of the Palestinian delegation at the proposed U.S.-Jordanian-Palestinian talks, Pickering said there was “no change in the U.S. position that our country will not meet with the PLO unless and until it accepts UN Resolutions 242 and 338 and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.”
He said that “intensive consultations” were now taking place between the U.S. and Israel on who would participate in any talks among the U.S., Jordan and a Palestinian delegation. He stated:
“Our purpose is to move to direct Arab-Israel talks — that is why a preliminary meeting between us and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation is being discussed. It is our hope that such a meeting will lead to direct negotiations, because it is our intention that only those committed to peace will be invited to such a preliminary meeting.”
In answer to a question, the new U.S. envoy — who formerly served as American ambassador to Jordan — said he believed that King Hussein had come “part of the way toward direct talks, further than ever before but not yet far enough.” He added that he had “no doubt that King Hussein accepts Israel’s right to exist.”
Asked why President Reagan had omitted Syria from a list of countries that support terrorism, the American diplomat replied that the U.S. hoped Syria would be helpful to returning the seven American hostages still in terrorist hands in Lebanon.
On Washington’s attitude toward a renewal of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Moscow the subject of recent news stories following a reported meeting between the Israeli and Soviet ambassadors to France — Pickering replied that this was “Israel’s decision to make.”
The United States, he said, had “no view on the matter, and we wish in no way to prejudice Israel’s decision one way or other.” Generally speaking, he observed, the United States favors diplomatic relations among nations.