New U.S. Deputy Secretary of State on First Official Visit of the Mideast

John Whitehead, the new Deputy Secretary of State, is in the Middle East on his first official visit to the region. “This is not a negotiating mission,” State Department deputy spokesman Charles Redman stressed Friday just before Whitehead left to visit Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Morocco. “Rather, it is an opportunity to become broadly familiar with the region and personally acquainted with some of the key leaders.”

Whitehead, who replaced kenneth Dam, has no diplomatic experience. He comes to the State Department from Wall Street where he spent his entire working life at Goldman, Sachs and Company. However, since 1984, when he stepped down as the firm’s co-chairman, he served as chairman of the investment house’s international advisory board. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission and was president of the International Rescue Committee.

Redman stressed that Whitehead’s visit is not a substitute for the expected trip to the region by Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, nor is he expected to become the State Department’s new Mideast expert since as Deputy Secretary his responsibilities are global.

However, the Whitehead trip obviously delays any plans for Murphy to return to the Mideast. The State Department has not yet made any decisions on the list of Palestinians it received from Jordan for approval as delegates for a meeting between the U.S. and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

This issue will be discussed by Whitehead, since all the countries he is visiting are involved in the U.S. effort to bring about direct negotiations between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

The trip also comes as King Hassan of Morocco has scheduled an Arab summit in Casablanca on August 7 which some believe could result in an endorsement of the move by King Hussein of Jordan and PLO leader Yasir Arafat to put together a negotiating team. Syria is opposed to the effort as well as to the summit. Redman said that Whitehead will not be at the summit meeting.

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