WASHINGTON (Mar. 29)
Former President Jimmy Carter stressed Sunday that an international conference is the only way to move the peace process forward in the Middle East.
Carter, interviewed from Tel Aviv on NBC TV’s “Meet the Press” at the conclusion of his Middle East visit, said there has been a “very significant move forward” in the area since his last visit there four years ago. He said Syrian President Hafez Assad told him he would negotiate with Israel in the context of an international conference, something he has previously rejected.
In addition, the Palestinians on the West Bank, Gaza and “perhaps” Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization also have indicated a willingness to participate in such a conference, Carter said.
“I certainly understand the animosity that exists, the mistrust that exists between the Palestinian people and the Israelis,” he said. “This is a matter that can only be overcome, in my judgment, by a comprehensive approach which is now possible, in my judgment, through an international peace conference.”
Carter did not say whether such a conference should include the Soviet Union and the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, as King Hussein of Jordan has demanded. Both the Reagan Administration and Israel have rejected Soviet participation as long as the USSR does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Carter indicated a belief that Arafat is moving toward approval of Palestinians who are not leaders of the PLO to represent the Palestinians at an international conference.
“I’ve never met with Arafat and I don’t know him,” the former President said. “My understanding is that in the format of a peace process that is definitive in nature, that he is willing to do these things in order to be accepted as a spokesman for the Palestinians, or even so he can designate someone to represent him as a spokesman.”
Carter was referring to the U.S. conditions that the PLO recognize Israel’s right to exist and accept UN Security Council resolution 242 before the U.S. would recognize or negotiate with the PLO.
As President, Carter said he was “constrained” be these conditions which were first made as a commitment to Israel by President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Carter noted that the PLO has not yet met the conditions, but “when they do so in order to participate fully in an international peace conference” the U.S. should have “a meeting with the PLO leadership.”
The former President defended his criticism of the Reagan Administration during his Mideast visit, noting he has been “much more reticent overseas than I have at home.”
He explained that he did not disagree with the Administration’s Mideast policy as expressed by President Reagan in his September 1, 1982 speech. But he criticized the Administration for its failure “to put Middle East peace as one of its high priorities.”
SHOWS UNDERSTANDING OF ISRAEL
Carter rejected a suggestion that Israel has “abused its relationship” with the U.S. by the Iran arms deal and the Pollard spy case. He said he has talked with the people carrying out the government and Knesset investigations of the Pollard case in Israel and has been assured the probes will be thorough.
“I have urged the Israeli leaders to make the information public once the investigations are complete” to assure acceptance of the results in the U.S., Carter said.
The former President seemed to indicate understanding of Israel’s effort on behalf of the U.S. in the Iran affair. “I certainly don’t blame Israel for nurturing this alliance” with the U.S., he said.