Carter Can Visit Syria if He Wishes, Says State Department

The State Department maintained Tuesday that it has not tried to dissuade former President Carter from visiting Syria when he goes to the Middle East next week.

At the same time, Department deputy spokesperson Phyllis Oakley stressed that Carter was no doubt “aware” of the Reagan Administration’s policy of having limited contact with Syria.

“President Carter is a private citizen,” Oakley said. “He makes his own decisions. We’re confident that he’s aware of our policy toward Syria.”

She was responding to a published report that the Administration tried to persuade Carter not to go to Syria on his forthcoming trip, which will include visits to Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Algeria.

“It’s not for us to object or not to object” if Carter decides to go to Damascus, Oakley said.

She said that the Reagan Administration announced last November 14 a policy of “limiting our political and economic” contacts with Syria because of Syria’s support of terrorism. This included “prohibition on high-level visits between Syrian and U.S. officials.”

This does not apply to Carter since the ex-President is not a government official, Oakley noted. She added that there was no prohibition on U.S. citizens travelling to Syria.

Carter, who helped bring about the 1978 Camp David agreements between Israel and Egypt, has kept up his interest in the Mideast since leaving office.

His current trip to the Mideast will be under the auspices of the Carter Center at Emory University, Atlanta.

Oakley said that the State Department briefed Carter on the countries he will visit. She did not know whether he would report back to the State Department on his findings, but noted that the Department “encourages” visits to the Mideast by private citizens. “We feel it serves a useful purpose,” she added.

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