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Strauss Defends U.S. Policy of Not Talking to PLO but Seeks to Bring Palestinians into Peace Process

August 27, 1979
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Robert Strauss, President Carter’s special Ambassador for Middle East negotiations, defended today the United States policy of not talking to the Palestine Liberation Organization, but stressed he is seeking to bring Palestinjans into the peace process.

In an interview on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” Strauss also denied that the Administration’s Mideast policy is in “disarray,” announced he will be deeply involved in the Lebanese situation, and called for a cooling of Black-Jewish tension in the wake of the resignation of Andrew Young as Ambassador to the United Nations.

Strauss’ comments on the PLO came after he was asked about Young’s statement in his valedictory address to the UN Security Council last Friday that it was “ridiculous” not to talk to the PLO. Strauss said the U.S. “just can’t talk with people who refuse to accept the existence of other people.” He stressed that the U.S. has urged and “I urge” the PLO to accept the right of Israel to exist and Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 so that “we can have a dialogue.”


This position on the PLO was criticized several days earlier by former Undersecretary of State George Ball who said the U.S. should “liberate” itself from the pledge to Israel and begin negotiations with the PLO.

Writing in the Washington Post last Friday Ball said that while the PLO “has not yet formally renounced the objective of destroying Israel, that does not preclude our exploring with the PLO leaders the outlines of a deal in which Palestinians would be offered self-determination in return for such renunciation. Once that initial obstruction were cleared away, Israel would have no basis for refusing to join negotiations to work out the appropriate modalities and safeguards.”

But Strauss, in his interview on CBS today said while the U.S. can’t talk with the PLO If does want to bring Palestinians into the peace process. “If we are going to have a comprehensive peace agreement… Then we are going to have to bring in the people whose lives are affected, “he said.

In that connection, Strauss said he would “make an effort” on his next trip to the Mideast to speak to West Bank mayors. He said he has talked to Palestinians and to Americans of Palestinian descent and others of “who we call moderate Palestinians,” non-PLO.


Rejecting claims that there is “disarray” In the Administration’s Mideast policy, he affirmed that the policy which was set by the President is “strong, firm” He stressed that the President the Secretary of State and he set the policy which he carries out. He said that Secretary of State Cyrus Vance is responsible for overall Mideast policy and he is responsible for Mideast talks. He denied any conflict with National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski who Strauss said talks with the President daily on all foreign affairs problems, including the Mideast.

Strauss also denied that he had been in conflict with the instructions he was given when he made his recent Mideast trip. He said he participated in the discussion on the proposals for the trip and “I agreed to carry out the mission.”

The special envoy said that one of the goals of his mission had been to “ease tension in Israel” and he had “accomplished” that. He denied he carried a proposed U.S. resolution for the Security Council on Palestinian rights but said he had taken several ideas for such a resolution, all of which were rejected both by Israel and Egypt.


Strauss cautioned Americans against expecting quick progress on the autonomy talks between Israel and Egypt. He noted that Egypt and Israel “don’t want us to push them faster than they want to go.” He added that “I want to make progress a bit faster” than they do since the U.S. has a May deadline for completing the talks. But he said progress is being made.

The special envoy revealed that he plans to become fully involved in the Lebanese situation. He said the U.S. has to make a strong effort to end the “terrorism, the violence, the shelling.”

On the Black-Jewish tension which has followed Young’s resignation, Strauss called it a “tragedy” which he hopes can be cooled during the coming weeks. He noted that the Black and Jewish communities “have a great deal of common interest in this country” having “marched side by side” on issues of justice. He said he hoped that Black and Jewish leaders can “lower the rhetoric” and get together to end the conflict.

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