WASHINGTON (Aug. 8)
President Carter, faced with a collapse of his Administration’s Middle East peace mission, unexpectedly disclosed today that the United States has been receiving information from the Palestine Liberation Organization that it may be willing to recognize Israel’s “right to exist.”
Carter made the announcement in an impromptu news conference in Plains, Ga. Officials with Secretary of State Cyrus. Vance’s party in Saudi Arabia also reported today receiving indirect messages from the PLO through the governments of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The President told reporters that the PLO’s messages sent him say “they may adopt UN Resolution 242 which does recognize Israel’s right to exist permanently and in peace with secure borders.” He added, “We don’t know yet what’s going to happen until I get a complete report from Cy Vance.” Vance is due in Israel tomorrow, the last scheduled stop on his current Mideast tour. However, he is expected to return to some of the Arab capitals he visited before leaving for Washington via a stop in London.
Meanwhile, as Carter was talking to reporters in Plains, there was a report from Beirut that a PLO spokesman denied that the terrorist organization was planning to change its stand on Resolution 242. “We are not ready to change our stand on 242 and we are not ready to recognize Israel,” the spokesman said.
CITES OPPORTUNITY FOR PLO
Carter told reporters in Plains the United States
“The thing that has made the Palestinians reluctant” to accept 242 “is that at the time it was passed it only referred to the Palestinians as refugees,” the President added. “If the Palestinians should say ‘we recognize UN Resolution 242 in its entirety, but we think the Palestinians have additional status other than just refugees,’ that would suit us okay.”
Carter said that “we have not had any direct conversations” with the PLO, “but, of course, they are sending us messages through the Syrians, the Saudi Arabians, the Egyptians, the Jordanians. We have a means to contact them and to exchange ideas with them.”
In Taif, Saudi Arabia’s summer capital, where Vance met with King Khaled today, one U.S. official said “There’s no reason to believe we would accept a change in the wording of Resolution 242.” Another U.S. official said the PLO’s reported willingness to accept the resolution would be “helpful.”
ISSUE SEEMS CLEAR-CUT
The disclosure of the PLO’s messages came the day after Jordan joined Syria in refusing to accept Egypt’s idea of having a Mideast Foreign Ministers’ “working group” meeting in the U.S. to prepare a Geneva conference. The U.S. and Israel had supported this idea but in view of the Syrian and Jordanian position, the Egyptian initiative together with the hopes of the U.S. to bring about the basis for a full settlement appeared doomed even before Vance reached Saudi Arabia.
The Vance team meets with the six-man group Premier Menachem Begin has chosen to discuss the proceedings for a Geneva conference tomorrow in Jerusalem. The issue between them seems clear-cut. Israel wants to go to a conference without the PLO and without preconditions so that the Arab and Israeli governments can discuss all issues between them face-to-face. The U.S. apparently is becoming agreeable to the Arab idea of being their middleman and negotiating with Israel on what the Israelis should accept.