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Behind the Headlines Strauss Wins a Round

August 24, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Robert Strauss, President Carter’s special Middle East envoy, emerged from the chaos of U.S. Mideast policy as what some analysts characterized the Carter Administration’s strongman and wisest counsellor in the Arab-Israel negotiating process. Strauss, these analysts contended, not only foresaw that the Administration’s proposal to introduce its own compromise proposal on Palestinian rights in the UN Security Council would be rejected by Israel and, as it turned out, by Egypt as well.

He also made it clear before undertaking a three-day shuttle mission to Israeli and Egypt last weekend that the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations and the Camp David agreements might founder if the U.S. did anything less than veto any resolution the pro-Palestine Liberation Organization representatives and allies might propose in the Security Council that would bring the Palestinians into the settlement process.

Returning from Cairo and Jerusalem with the strongly negative reactions by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Premier Menachem Begin of Israel to the U.S.-proposed resolution, Strauss minced no words in again denouncing the idea and in calling for it to be abandoned.

Israel’s objection to anything that might enhance or increase PLO influence is well known. But it was Sadat who termed the Carter Administration’s idea for a new resolution on Palestinian rights “stupid” and noted that it was up to the Arabs who had rejected the negotiating process to come to Israel and Egypt in the negotiating effort rather than the other way around, as some in Washington wanted.


In this setting, Vice President Walter Mondale, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski joined Strauss in telephoning Carter, who was cruising on the Mississippi River, their “unanimous” recommendation that the U.S. drop its attempt to introduce its own resolution in the Security Council.

Then it was Strauss who went on national television to explain the new U.S. position to the American people and the worldwide media and to caution the Security Council that it should postpone again its session dealing with the Palestinians.

In addition, it was Strauss who set it straight that the PLO had first to recognize Israel’s right to exist within the meaning of Security Council Resolution 242 before the U.S. would deal with that terrorist force. It also was Strauss who first spoke out for the Administration against the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who courted the PLO and scored Israel and the American Jewish community.


Among the circumstances evidencing the sad disarray of the U.S. Middle East policy before the Strauss ideas took hold at the White House is that lame-duck Ambassador Andrew Young would chair the UN debate as the Council’s President while continuing as the chief U.S. representative at the UN until his successor is named.

Much of the responsibility for the disarray points directly at the White House and Carter himself. The Administration’s actions both before and after the Young resignation indicate the depth of the President’s personal participation.

On the point of U.S. leadership in the negotiations, Carter had named Strauss with authority to act for him. But he demanded Strauss take the ill fated resolution idea to Cairo and Jerusalem. While White House sources now say this was a relatively mild U.S. resolution that could block a tougher Arab-initiated action, others saw the Carter proposal as one more step towards establishing Palestinian domination over the West Bank and Gaza Strip and causing Israel to withdraw from those areas and East Jerusalem in line with the President’s view, as he expressed in Clinton, Mass. in the third month of his Presidency.


But this proposal which Strauss had fought boomeranged, and Strauss came back with demands for change because, observers say, he saw that such a proposal would undercut Israel’s opposition to the PLO and would therefore cause Israel to repudiate the Camp David commitments and thus possibly affect the return of Sinai to Egypt.

Still undetermined is who made the “suggestion” to Young that he meet with the PLO UN observer Zehadi Labib Terzi in New York July 26. Terzi himself now says that he firmly believes Young came to meet him only after getting permission from Washington. “Nobody believed for a minute,” Terzi said “that Young was acting on his own.” Terzi pointed out ambassadors do not engage in impulse buying and “the United Nations is not a boutique.”

While the State Department acknowledges that information it received July 30, four days after Young’s meeting with Terzi included a “suggestion” that Young meet the PLO representative, this was not agreed upon. But the Carter Administration continues to be silent on who made the “suggestions.”

Another major factor in the suspicions that more than Young was involved in his actions is that U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Milton Wolf, met three times with PLO officials in Vienna and all that the State Department did was to “remind” him of the U.S. policy not to talk to the PLO. Wolf was described as on intimate terms with Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky who entertained PLO chief Yasir Arafat in Vienna and endorsed his views.


Meanwhile, Republican Presidential candidate George Bush called on Carter to clarify his Administration’s position on the Middle East to help “sooth a growing domestic discord.” In a statement issued at his campaign headquarters here, Bush said “Ambassador Andrew Young’s resignation from his post as the chief U.S. representative at the United Nations has created a furor” that “is one more example of the inconsistency and incoherence that characterizes the Carter Administration policy in the Middle East.”

Continuing, the statement said: “Despite an incident that exacerbated an already strained relationship with Israel–a valued friend and strategic ally–and raised tension between the Black and Jewish communities in the United States, President Carter has yet to issue a statement which clarifies his Administration’s position in this matter and sooth a growing domestic discord.” It also urged Carter to clarify the U.S. commitment to Israel “for the sake of our own people the people of Israel and all those who are seeking peace.

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