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Sisco Sees October As ‘critical Point’ for Mideast

June 2, 1978
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Former Undersecretary of State Joseph Sisco said here last night that the Middle East is presently at a stage that could tilt either toward war or peace. He predicted that “the critical point” will come this October “when the mandate of the United Nations force in the Sinai comes to an end” and the UN Security Council will have to act to renew it.

“I think that will be a period of high tension,” he told 150 participants in a three-day symposium on the Middle East sponsored by the American Histadrut Cultural Exchange Institute and the AFL-CIO at the George F. Meany Center in Silver Spring, Md.

Sisco, who is president of American University and was regarded as one of the State Department’s top experts on the Middle East during his diplomatic career, said he is “not as pessimistic as some” over the chances for a settlement in that region. He noted that despite the present negotiations impasse neither President Anwar Sadat of Egypt nor Premier Menachem Begin of Israel “are willing to say that the peace process has come to an end.” He also said he was convinced that “there is no diminution” of America’s “historical commitment to the security and survival of Israel.”

Sisco indicated that he regarded Sadat’s peace initiative of last November as a watershed in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Describing the Egyptian leader as a “strategist, the master of surprise,” he said Sadat went to Jerusalem because “he was dissatisfied with the slowness of our effort whose objective was renewal of the Geneva conference and secondly, he was equally dissatisfied with the positions being taken by some of his Arab colleagues which, in fact, in his judgment, made it impossible, if not unlikely, for the Geneva conference to be resumed.”

Speaking of Israel, Sisco said, “You have Israel that is three million strong, surrounded by 100 million Arabs that they believe are pursuing interests that are inimical to their own interests. Therefore, from the point of view of the Israelis, any overall peace agreement not only has to be contractual in nature, not only has to be a peace with meaning and substance to it, but it has to provide the on the ground security arrangements that will give assurance to the State of three million surrounded by 100 million.” He observed that “there was no way in which an Israeli government, in the context of last November, could have made a response that was commensurate with the kind of dramatic, psychological, bold movement that the Sadat initiative constituted.”

Sisco stressed that U.S. policy in the Mideast is part of the global problem. He also stressed that the U.S. has more influence among the Arabs than the Soviets because “while the Soviet Union can help the Arabs make war by providing military assistance, it is only the U.S. that can help make peace in the area” because “we are the only power that is acceptable to both sides.”

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