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Carter Gets Recommendations on Arab-israeli Situation but Big Question is Who is in Charge

August 22, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Carter Administration’s “Big Four” on Middle Eastern affairs presented the President today with a set of recommendations on the United States’ course in the Arab-Israeli situation although there still seemed to be confusion over who was in charge of American Mideast policy.

Vice President Walter Mondale, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Special Ambassador to the Mideast Robert Strauss decided on the recommendations at a three-hour meeting at the White House and then said they telephoned them to Carter, who is cruising on the Mississippi River.

The recommendations were not disclosed when Vance and Strauss met the press after the meeting. Vance, who interrupted a vacation at Martha’s Vineyard for the meeting, said that Strauss’ conversations with Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat over the weekend “have led to new insights.” He said the four leaders “have come to a unanimous recommendation” for the President.


Strauss said that the four Administration leaders “had very little difficulty” in coming “to some general conclusion, not only with respect to the recommendations we would make to the President, but possibly for more important, beginning to put in place and continue to put in place and firm up an overall Middle East peace strategy.” Strauss added that “among the things we decided upon” was that he would return to the Mideast following the Sadat-Begin meeting in Haifa early in September.

When Vance was asked “who is in charge of Middle East policy,” he replied that it has “always been the responsibility of the Secretary of State and remains the responsibility of the Secretary of State. Bob (Strauss) is in charge of the peace negotiations.”

Strauss, who has consistently said that he is in charge of negotiating an Arab-Israeli settlement, consulting as necessary with Carter and Vance, was asked if Vance’s statement bothered him. He sidestepped the question and the news conference ended.

Meanwhile, news reports from the Delta Queen riverboat bearing the President’s party, said that Presidential News Secretary Jody Powell declared that Mondale is in charge of Middle East policy. “I am authorized to say that the President has asked the Vice President to be responsible for any questions or problems that arise in the larger area of the Middle East,” Powell said.

Carter, himself, when he was asked to comment on statements by resigned Ambassador Andrew Young, said the question should be referred to Mondale. The State Department pointed out later today that “ultimately” the policy is the responsibility of the President.

Strauss, who returned home from the Mideast last night, told reporters aboard his plane that his mission to Israel and Egypt was “not good.” His aides in Washington were quoted as saying that Strauss was opposed to the U.S. offering its own resolution on Palestinian rights for the Security Council debate scheduled for this Thursday, but was given written instructions on this just before he boarded the plane for Israel last week.

Strauss reportedly believed that a U.S. resolution would worsen relations with Israel but he had no chance to argue the point with the President since his instructions were given him at the last minute. Strauss was reported as saying on the plane that he carried out the instructions but both Begin and Sadat rejected the U.S. proposed resolution.

The State Department, however, denied yesterday there had been any dissent about Mideast strategy and that the approach used by Strauss over the weekend had been approved unanimously at a meeting attended by Strauss.

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