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Eban Says Nasser’s Tough Speech in Moscow Belies Sign of ‘thaw’

July 8, 1968
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Foreign Minister Abba Eban said in a national radio address tonight that a bellicose speech by Egypt’s President Nasser at a luncheon attended by top Kremlin leaders in Moscow Friday gave lie to the so-called “peace offensive” by Egypt that had been widely reported by the world press in recent days as a sign of a “thaw” in the Middle East dispute. Mr. Eban contrasted Mr. Nasser’s Moscow words with those of Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad who said Egypt was prepared to accept the “reality” of Israel’s existence.

Mr. Nasser did not speak of Israel as a state to whose existence the Arabs could become reconciled, but stressed the possibility of renewed warfare and the forcible “liberation” by the Arabs of areas occupied by Israel since the June, 1967 war, Mr. Eban said. “As Nasser is the person in charge of Egypt’s policy, it must be said regretfully that there is no substantive change in Egypt’s policy,” Mr. Eban declared.

According to the official Egyptian version, Mr. Nasser said in Moscow that the Arab nations wanted peace with Israel “but not at any price” and characterized a peace based on the status quo as “simply surrender.” He referred to Israeli “aggression” and “imperialism” and pledged that the Arabs “would liquidate the consequences of Israeli aggression whatever the cost and sacrifice.” He spoke after a three-hour conference with Soviet Premier Alexei N. Kosygin, President Nikolai V. Podgorny and Communist Party chief Leonid I. Brezhnev. It was announced later that Nasser decided to extend his stay in Moscow and postponed for several days his trip to Yugoslavia for talks with President Tito. Mr. Brezhnev reportedly pledged that the USSR would “always side with the Arab nations” in the struggle for the “undelayed withdrawal” of Israeli troops from all occupied territories.

Mr. Eban said today that the importance of Egyptian Foreign Minister Riad’s statements was “grossly exaggerated.’ He also said that there has been no shift in the attitude of the Big Powers on Israel’s insistence on negotiations as essential to a peace settlement. Mr. Eban doubted that the Egyptian “peace offensive” might lead to combined East-West pressure on Israel. No state that has in the past year advocated the formula of agreed and secured boundaries as a basis for peace has changed its position, he said.

Referring to the possible re-opening of the Suez Canal, Mr. Eban said Israel would be happy to see the canal functioning again for the ships of all nations, including Israel’s, but such an event could in no way be linked to an Israeli withdrawal from the canal’s east bank.

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