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Middle East Deadlock is One of Major Foreign Policy Problems Facing Nixon

January 21, 1969
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The torch was passed today to Richard M. Nixon, who became the 37th President of the United States. Among the myriad problems facing his new Republican Administration was the Middle East crisis. Whether that torch will cast light on the rocky road to an Arab-Israel settlement will hinge, to a large extent, on what foreign policy Mr. Nixon, Secretary of State William P. Rogers and their advisors adopt in the days ahead.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Nixon stressed the theme of America as a “peace-maker.” Without any direct reference to the Middle East, he said that a United States goal should be this: “where peace is unknown, make it welcome; where peace is fragile, make it strong; where peace is temporary, make it permanent.” He said, “After a period of confrontation, we are entering an era of negotiation. Let all the nations know that during this Administration, our lines of communication will be open. We seek an open world–open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods and people, a world in which no people, great or small, will live in angry isolation.”

Mr. Nixon, a Quaker, took the oath of office using two brown leather-covered King James family Bibles, dating back to 1828 and 1873. They were open to Isaiah, chapter two, verse four: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.”

One of the world’s hottest trouble spots is the Middle East. The scene of potentially renewed warfare, it is the locus of a major conflict of interest between Moscow and Washington. During his campaign, Mr. Nixon called for Israeli military superiority to deter possible war, but Republican politicians and business interests have tended to show greater concern over the years for the Arabs than for Israel. In one campaign speech, Mr. Nixon characterized the Russians as “fishing in troubled Middle Eastern waters” and called on the U.S. to “deal directly” with the Kremlin on peace-keeping in the region. He also called for strengthening America’s ruptured ties with the Arab world and said Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser was the “key” to a settlement. He opposed “simply writing Nasser off.”

As Mr. Nixon was taking the oath of office, President Nasser, addressing the National Assembly in Cairo, called for a military buildup that could force Israel to retreat from Arab land occupied during the Six-Day War. He hinted that there might be an Arab summit conference soon to study the Middle East deadlock. Pledging support of Arab guerrillas, he rejected negotiations with Israel, said Egypt advocated peace, and added, “we must realize that the enemy will not retreat unless we force them by fighting.”

The Arab world meanwhile was angry over reports that the U.S. had adopted a pro-Israel stance in replying to Soviet peace proposals. Hope was expressed that President Nixon would alter U.S. policies. The authoritative Cairo newspaper Al Ahram reported Sunday that the Johnson Administration, in replying to the Soviet plan, had called for an international campaign to halt the grave increase of Arab terrorist operations.” (The State Department did not confirm whether the article was true.) The Al Ahram report said that Mr. Johnson’s reply (which was understood to have been seen by Secretary of State Rogers) called for guarantees of navigation rights, assumed to be Israeli, through the Strait of Tiran, and for demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula. It also said that the U.S. insisted that a peace settlement must be reached by the disputants and not be imposed. According to reports reaching here, headlines in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut denounced the Johnson message, and some newspapers hoped for better things from Mr. Nixon.

At the inauguration on the Capitol steps. Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles was one of the clergymen delivering prayers.

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