Carter News Conferences & Interviews: Middle East/Israel
FEBRUARY 9, 1977
Q. Mr. President, my name is Howard Griffin, from the Department of Commerce, Office of Export Administration. Some of my workers would like to know what are you planning to do with the Arab boycott? In one of your speeches you said that you were planning to end it. They were wondering, how far have you progressed on this?
THE PRESIDENT. I think it is good for all of us to understand that there are different meanings to the word "boycott." A primary boycott is perfectly acceptable in international affairs.
We have, for instance, a primary boycott against Cuba. It is all right for a nation to say we are not going to trade with you. It is perfectly all right for the Arab countries to say we are not going to trade with Israel. What does create a problem that I hope to eliminate is for the Arab countries to say to us, "You cannot trade with Israel and also trade with us" or "You cannot trade with us, the Arab countries, if you have Jews on your board of directors." This, in my opinion, violates the constitutional rights of Jewish citizens. It also is completely obnoxious to me in a society like our own, built on an absence of legal attention, of recognition of a person's religious or racial or sexual characteristics.
So, that is what is called a secondary and even tertiary boycott. We now have several bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate. We have a cohesive group of business and labor leaders, many of whom happen to be Jewish, who are working on the principles that ought to be included in an antiboycott law.
And I will support those. I think it is time for us to root out the concept of the secondary and tertiary boycott, never permit a foreign nation to discriminate against any of our citizens who happen to be Jewish, with legal permission from our own Government. And we also need to have as a last thing uniformity among the different States of the Nation in dealing with the antiboycott legislation. We now have a strong antiboycott law in New York. We have a weak antiboycott law in New Jersey. So, when the Arab countries want to come and trade, they just bypass New York, come into New Jersey, and they can discriminate against Jewish citizens accordingly.
So, uniformity and elimination of attention, of recognition given to a citizen because they happen to be Jewish, and a prohibition against the deprivation of human rights, and a secondary and tertiary boycott are all things that I hope to root out.
The right of the Arab countries to boycott Israel is something with which we have no authority and in which I do not want to become involved.
MARCH 9, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, there has been a lot of talk about defensible borders lately and what that means in regard to the Middle East. Could I ask you, sir, do you feel that it would be appropriate in a Middle East peace settlement for the Israelis to keep some of the occupied land they took during the 1967 war in order to have secure borders?
THE PRESIDENT. The defensible border phrase, the secure borders phrase, obviously, are just semantics. I think it's a relatively significant development in the description of possible settlement in the Middle East to talk about these things as a distinction.
The recognized borders have to be mutual. The Arab nations, the Israeli nation, has to agree on permanent and recognized borders, where sovereignty is legal as mutually agreed. Defense lines may or may not conform in the foreseeable future to those legal borders. There may be extensions of Israeli defense capability beyond the permanent and recognized borders.
I think this distinction is one that is now recognized by Israeli leaders. The definition of borders on a geographical basis is one that remains to be determined. But I think that it is important for the world to begin to see, and for the interested parties to begin to see, that there can be a distinction between the two; the ability of Israel to defend herself by international agreement or by the some. time placement of Israeli forces themselves or by monitoring stations, as has been the case in the Sinai, beyond the actual sovereignty borders as mutually agreed by Israel and her neighbors.
Q. Well, does that mean international zones between the countries?
THE PRESIDENT. International zones could very well be part of an agreement. And I think that I can see in a growing way, a step-by-step process where there might be a mutual agreement that the ultimate settlement, even including the border delineations, would be at a certain described point. In an interim state, maybe 2 years, 4 years, 8 years, or more, there would be a mutual demonstration of friendship and an end to the declaration or state of war.
I think that what Israel would like to have is what we would like to have: a termination of belligerence toward Israel by her neighbors, a recognition of Israel's right to exist, the right to exist in peace, the opening up of borders with free trade, tourist travel, cultural exchange between Israel and her neighbors; in other words, a stabilization of the situation in the Middle East without a constant threat to Israel's existence by her neighbors.
This would involve substantial withdrawal of Israel's present control over territories. Now, where that withdrawal might end, I don't know. I would guess it would be some minor adjustments in the 1967 borders. But that still remains to be negotiated.
But I think this is going to be a long, tedious process. We're going to mount a major effort in our own Government in 1977, to bring the parties to Geneva. Obviously, any agreement has to be between the parties concerned. We will act as an intermediary when our good offices will serve well.
But I'm not trying to predispose our own Nation's attitudes towards what might be the ultimate details of the agreement that can mean so much to world peace.
of the possibility of substantial withdrawal of Israeli control over territory and then, just a few seconds later, spoke of the possibility of minor territorial concessions by the Israelis.
What is it exactly that you have in mind here? Are you really talking about some big withdrawals, or are you talking only about minor withdrawals?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think I would use the word minor withdrawals. I think there might be minor adjustments to the 1967, pre-1967 borders. But that's a matter for Israel and her neighbors to decide between themselves.
Q. Mr. President, I'd like to go just a little bit further in your discussion of the defensible borders issue.
If I understood you correctly, you're talking about the possibility of something like an Israeli defense line along the Jordan River and perhaps at some point on the Sinai Desert and perhaps at some point on the Golan Heights, that would be defense forces but not legal borders.
Have I understood that correctly, that your feeling is that the Israelis are going to have to have some kind of defense forces along the Jordan River and in those other places?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, you added a great deal to what I said. In the first place, I didn't mention any particular parts of the geography around Israel. And I didn't confine the defense capability to Israeli forces. These might very well be international forces. It might very well be a line that's fairly broad, say, 20 kilometers or more, where demilitarization is guaranteed on both sides. It might very well consist of outposts, electronics or, perhaps, personnel outposts as were established in the Sinai region as a result of the Egypt and Israeli agreement.
I'm not going to try to get more specific in saying what will or will not be the case. But that is a possibility that might lead to the alleviation of tension there, and it's one about which I will be discussing this matter with the representatives from the Arab countries when they come.
MARCH 16, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. My name is Reverend Richard Harding, and, President Carter, it's a pleasure to welcome you to the number one Everytown, U.S.A.--Clinton, Massachusetts.
I would like to ask you, Mr. President-it seems that world peace hinges greatly on the Middle East.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. What do you personally feel must be done to establish a meaningful and a lasting peace in that area of the world? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT. I think all of you know that there has been either war or potential war in the Middle East for the last 29 years, ever since Israel became a nation. I think one of the finest acts of the world nations that's ever occurred was to establish the State of Israel.
So, the first prerequisite of a lasting peace is the recognition of Israel by her neighbors, Israel's right to exist, Israel's right to exist permanently, Israel's right to exist in peace. That means that over a period of months or years that the borders between Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, Israel and Egypt must be opened up to travel, to tourism, to cultural exchange, to trade, so that no matter who the leaders might be in those countries, the people themselves will have formed a mutual understanding and comprehension and a sense of a common purpose to avoid the repetitious wars and death that have afflicted that region so long. That's the first prerequisite of peace.
The second one is very important and very, very difficult, and that is the establishment of permanent borders for Israel. The Arab countries say that Israel must withdraw to the pre-1967 borderlines; Israel says that they must adjust those lines to some degree to insure their own security. That is a matter to be negotiated between the Arab countries on the one side and Israel on the other.
But borders are still a matter of great trouble and a matter of great difficulty, and there are strong differences of opinion now.
And the third ultimate requirement for peace is to deal with the Palestinian problem. The Palestinians claim up 'til this moment that Israel has no right to be there, that the land belongs to the Palestinians, and they've never yet given up their publicly professed commitment to destroy Israel. That has to be overcome.
There has to be a homeland provided for the Palestinian refugees who have suffered for many, many years. And the exact way to solve the Palestinian problem is one that first of all addresses itself right now to the Arab countries and then, secondly, to the Arab countries negotiating with Israel.
Those three major elements have got to be solved before a Middle Eastern solution can be prescribed.
I want to emphasize one more time, we offer our good offices. I think it's accurate to say that of all the nations in the world, we are the one that's most trusted, not completely, but most trusted by the Arab countries and also Israel. I guess both sides have some doubt about us. But we'll have to act kind of as a catalyst to bring about their ability to negotiate successfully with one another.
We hope that later on this year, in the latter part of this year, that we might get all of these parties to agree to come together at Geneva, to start talking to one another. They haven't done that yet. And I believe if we can get them to sit down and start talking and negotiating that we have an excellent chance to achieve peace. I can't guarantee that. It's a hope.
I hope that we will all pray that that will come to pass, because what happens in the Middle East in the future might very well cause a major war there which would quickly spread to all the other nations of the world; very possibly it could do that.
Many countries depend completely on oil from the Middle East for their life. We don't. If all oil was cut off to us from the Middle East, we could survive; but Japan imports more than 98 percent of all its energy, and other countries, like in Europe--Germany, Italy, France--are also heavily dependent on oil from the Middle East.
So, this is such a crucial area of the world that I will be devoting a major part of my own time on foreign policy between now and next fall trying to provide for a forum within which they can discuss their problems and, hopefully, let them seek out among themselves some permanent solution.
Just maybe as briefly as I could, that's the best answer I can give you to that question.
APRIL 8, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, do you think that the resignation of Prime Minister Rabin may throw off your timetable for the Geneva talks and a settlement in the Middle East?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't. Obviously, the Israeli Labor Party will now be searching for a replacement candidate for Prime Minister Rabin in May. And I believe that the outcome of the election might very well be affected; nobody can anticipate how.
But there is a great realization among the Israeli leaders that 1977 is an important year. There is almost a unanimous commitment, I think, among all the Mideastern countries, that if we don't succeed this year in some major step toward peace that it will be a long time before we can mount such a mammoth multinational effort again.
So, it may be affected---the chances for peace--but no one can predict how. And I believe the Israelis will push forward with their own strong desire to have a permanent and lasting peace with the Arab neighbors, to have borders that they can defend, and that the Palestinian question be resolved. I don't think the identity of one particular political figure, even the Prime Minister, will affect that adversely.
Q. Mr. President, when you were meeting with President Sadat and you were talking about this Palestinian question, did you get any impression that there is a way to get the Palestinians to Geneva as part of some delegation? And if so, can you give us some of your thinking on that?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, President Sadat earlier had been the Arab leader that was courageous enough to espouse the idea that the Palestinians might be part of the Jordanian delegation. Whether or not that will evolve, I don't have any way to anticipate.
But I have good hope that we can resolve the question of Palestinian participation in some fashion or another. At this point, which is quite early in the year's efforts, I believe that it's primarily a responsibility of the Arab countries and the Palestinians. And for me to spell out what I think is a most likely prospect, I think would be counterproductive at this point.
Q. Mr. President, do you think they should be represented?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously, one of the three crucial decisions to be made in the Middle East concerns the Palestinian people. And there will have to be a spokesman for their viewpoint during the conference itself. Whether that would be done by a surrogate or by them directly is something that hasn't been evolved.
The other two questions, obviously, are the definition of permanent peace and the assurance of it, and the border delineations. But I certainly think that in some fashion that the Palestinian people must be represented.
Q. Mr. President, President Sadat used the word entity when he came to Washington, instead of Palestinian nation or Palestinian state.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. Did you get any impression from him that he is moving toward, or more willing now to accept a Jordanian-Palestinian nation, that is, a homeland that would be under the control of Jordan?
THE PRESIDENT. That's a question I wouldn't want to answer for President Sadat. I'll let him make his own statements publicly, and I don't intend to repeat what he tells me privately.
But I think that it's obvious that that's one avenue of success. It's one that I have espoused even during the campaign months; that perhaps some confederation or some relationship between the Palestinians and Jordan might be advisable.
As you know, there are approximately a million Palestinians who are part of the Jordanian society now, in very high positions in the government, and I think this is a natural possibility. Whether or not it will be the ultimate decision, I can't say.
Q. Can I go back to something you said earlier on another subject? That was the subject of the total $11 billion in under-spending and over-tax collection.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
MAY 12, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, do you think that Israel should accept the Palestinian homeland if the Palestinians or PLO accept the fact of Israel? And also, as a result of your talks today, are you persuaded that we should share arms technology and coproduction with Israel?
THE PRESIDENT. The answer to both those questions is yes. I don't think that there can be any reasonable hope for a settlement of the Middle Eastern question, which has been extant now on a continuing basis now for more than 29 years, without a homeland for the Palestinians. The exact definition of what that homeland might be, the degree of independence of the Palestinian entity, its relationship with Jordan, or perhaps Syria and others, the geographical boundaries of it, all have to be worked out by the parties involved. But for the Palestinians to have a homeland and for the refugee question to be resolved, is obviously of crucial importance.
We have a special relationship with Israel. It's absolutely crucial that no one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our number one commitment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace. It's a special relationship.
Although I've met with the leaders of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and had long hours of discussion, I never found any of those Arab leaders who objected to that special commitment of ours to the protection of the integrity of Israel.
And obviously, part of that is to make sure that Israel has adequate means to protect themselves without military involvement of the United States. I have no objection about this arrangement. I'm proud of it. And it will be permanent as long as I'm in office.
Q. May I get back briefly to Helen's question? It seemed to us, traveling with you, that you and the people in your party were a 'bit more upbeat on the question of the Middle East this week than perhaps a couple weeks ago after the Hussein visit. I just wonder, do you have indications now that the Palestinians are ready to recognize the right of Israel to exist? And also, .do you have--in reference to the question Helen brought up--do you have some indication that Israel is ready to recognize the need for a Palestinian homeland?
THE PRESIDENT. We have had no contact with the Palestinians, with PLO. But I have concluded meetings with the Prime Minister of Israel, the President of Egypt, the President of Syria, and the King of Jordan. At the conclusion of this series of meetings, I feel 'better than I did before. At the end of the Hussein meeting my own hopes were improved.
I don't want to mislead anyone. The chances for Middle Eastern peace are still very much in doubt. We have a long way to go. But I do believe that there's a chance that the Palestinians might make moves to recognize the right of Israel to exist. And if so, this would remove one of the major obstacles toward further progress.
Our Government, before I became President, promised the Israeli Government that we would not recognize the PLO by direct conversations or negotiations, as long as the PLO continued to espouse the commitment that Israel had to be destroyed.
I would like to see this resolved. There's a chance that it will be done. We are trying to add our efforts to bring this about. But I have no assurance that it will be accomplished.
FOREIGN ARMS SALES
Q. Mr. President, about a month ago you got recommendations on your desk for a new weapons sales policy for overseas, and Secretary Vance has explained that to some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Did you explain that policy to the other leaders in London that you met with, and will Israel get any kind of special treatment? Will there be a class of countries that get special treatment?
THE PRESIDENT. I did explain it to the other leaders in London--to some of the other leaders, not all of them, because I met with so many. And the second answer is that Israel will get special treatment. We have a certain small group of nations who, because of long-standing historical commitments of Presidents, Congress, and the American people, do have a special relationship with our Government.
In coproduction--that's when we share responsibilities for the production of a certain weapons system or the sale of the advanced weapons systems--Israel is one of those countries. Yes.
MAY 20, 1977
PRIME MINISTER BEGIN OF ISRAEL
Q. Have you been in touch with Mr. Begin since his election, and do you plan any meeting with him? And what changes in our Mideast policy does this suggest may be necessary?
THE PRESIDENT. I have not been in touch with Mr. Begin. I think it's proper for me to wait for congratulatory messages and also to contact Mr. Begin until the President of Israel officially designates him as the new leader. At this point, of course, Mr. Perez is still the Prime Minister, and until the President designates Mr. Begin as the one to put a government together, I don't intend to communicate with him.
After, though, he is designated to put the government together, my intention is to congratulate him and also to let him know that I would welcome a visit and a discussion with him about the future of the Middle East.
I am very hopeful that the election will not change the long-time commitment of Israel to searching for a permanent peace settlement. And I have never met Mr. Begin. He has been here earlier to meet with Dr. Brzezinski since I have been President, but I was not here and did not get a chance to meet him. But we are being very reticent about making any statements concerning the Israeli election until we can understand the prospects of the new government as it relates to a possible peace settlement, and I doubt that I will know, even have a firm opinion, on how much that's changed until I have a personal meeting with him.
We have successfully concluded talks with the leaders of Israel, when Mr. Rabin was there, of Egypt and Jordan and Syria. I found all those talks to be very constructive and my hope is that these constructive remarks made to me by the leaders accurately represents the strong inclination of the people whom they lead. If so, I think that the identity of particular leaders will be much less a factor than is generally believed in the immediate aftermath of an election.
MAY 26, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, on March 9, you talked about the idea of Israel withdrawing to her '67 borders, with only minor adjustments. Is that still your position, and is there any way that Israel could retain the West Bank of the Jordan and make that fit in the definition of "minor adjustments"?
THE PRESIDENT. That is still my position, although I might add again that the United States, including myself as President-we do not have a Middle Eastern settlement plan, but the basic premises have been spelled out very clearly.
In the United Nations resolutions that have been passed, coming from the Security Council, voted on and supported by our Government--and these have been binding policies of the Government--they do include the right of the Palestinians to have a homeland, to be compensated for losses that they have suffered. They do include the withdrawal of Israel from occupied territories from the 1967 war, and they do include an end of belligerency and a reestablishment of permanent and secure borders.
All these things have been spelled out in writing in those United Nations positions which we have endorsed--every administration since they were passed.
I would certainly assume that withdrawal from West Bank territories, either partially or in their entirety, would be a part of an ultimate settlement, but that is something that has to be worked out still between the Israelis and their neighbors.
We do not intend to put forward a description of what the exact borders should be. It is not our role to play. We will explore possibilities for common agreement and reserve the right to make our opinions known. But we have no control over anyone in the Middle East and do not want any control over anyone in the Middle East. But those three basic principles-permanent peace, secure borders, and resolution of the Palestinian question--all have been and still are integral parts of any peace settlement.
Q. Mr. President, to follow up on the Middle East, Mr. President, could you give us more of your thinking on the disposition of places like the Golan Heights, which you talked about during the campaign, the question of Jerusalem, and other areas like that? And can you say how your proposal for minor alterations differs from the 1969 American plan calling for substantial alterations?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I can't respond to those specific things. I think it would be inappropriate for me to try to draw a line on a map in the Golan Heights, the West Bank of Jerusalem, or the Sinai Peninsula. That is something that would have to be negotiated between the parties involved.
But I think also that it was obvious that the United States didn't advance the cause of the settlement when the so-called Rogers plan was put forward without adequate prior consultation with the different nations who were concerned with the Middle, Eastern question.
I think it is better just to talk in terms of what our country has had as its longtime policy. But as far as an exact definition of the borders, I don't have the capability nor the inclination to go into that.
Q. And your public statements with respect to a Palestinian homeland are being credited as being a factor in the election of a conservative, hard-line political group in Israel.
Do you think that you are going to be able to continue your policy of open discussions of foreign policy issues and, at the same time, achieve agreements? In other words, do you think you are going to be able to have your cake and eat it, too?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't agree with the premise of your question. I don't believe that my open espousal of a desire on the part of the American people to reduce the number of missile launchers or atomic weapons prior to the time we negotiated in Moscow was a reason for a breakdown in that discussion.
It has led to continuing discussions, and I believe it's a viable policy that I will pursue and I see no reason why the American people should not know it, and I believe that overwhelmingly the American people support it.
I think it's good for the American people to know what our positions are at the time that the Soviets know what our positions are, and vice versa.
This is a matter that must be addressed openly. It involves not only the Soviet and American people but it also involves our allies and friends who depend upon us around the world.
In the campaign itself and in my Inaugural Address, I expressed a hope which I still have, that ultimately myself or my successor, Mr. Brezhnev or his successor, can arrive at a point where nuclear weapons are eliminated completely from the Soviet and the American arsenals.
The other point of your question was concerning the results of the election in Israel. I think that the international questions in Israel were very slightly discussed or debated during their campaign. My opinion is that the result of the elections were not affected appreciably if at all by any statements that I made concerning an ultimate Middle Eastern settlement.
Our positions are compatible with the positions taken by my own predecessor and, in fact, historically the United States has espoused these basic principles. And I think that this is something that must be addressed frankly by the prospective government in Israel, by the people of Israel, their Arab neighbors, and by the people in the United States.
So, I don't intend to refrain from expressing very clearly my position on foreign issues to the public on occasion when negotiations are going on--or when we have an agreement with our negotiating partners to refrain from public statements, of course I will do so. But that will be an individual judgment to be made.
Q. Realizing that the Israeli government is not in place yet, but assuming that Mr. Begin will have a dominant role in it, and based on his initial remarks about withdrawal of the sector, do you see him as a potential obstacle to the peace process?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't.
I don't yet have any way to know who will put the government together. Obviously, Mr. Begin leads the Likud government which came in first. And we are waiting now for the Israeli election results to be confirmed and for the President of Israel to designate the leader of that party to put the government together. Following that time and before the government is completely evolved, I intend to congratulate Mr. Begin, if it is he, and to invite him or whoever is designated to come over here for discussions with me.
There obviously are difficulties caused by a change in the Israeli government. But in the long run, as is the case in our own country and in a democracy like Israel, the government leaders fairly accurately reflect the hopes and desires and fears and purposes of the people whom they are chosen to lead.
Mr. Begin will have to put together a government. He'll have to deal with conflicting interests as he forms his cabinet and brings in other groups to make sure that he has a majority in the Knesset.
So, I don't look at this as an insuperable obstacle. It does create a question. I think a large part of that question can be resolved when I meet with him personally and when he meets with the congressional leaders and with the Jewish Americans who are very deeply interested in this and sees the purpose of our own country.
I think this may have an effect on him. I have already seen some moderation in his views as he's dealt with Mr. Yadin and others, and I hope that this moderation will continue.
Obviously, the Arab leaders also have to be moderate. Some of the adamant stands that they have taken in the historical past will have to be abandoned. If they didn't, there would be no hope for peace.
So, both sides of this--or rather all sides of this discussion have to yield to some degree to accomplish the purposes of their own people.
JUNE 30, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, Senator Javits says you are pushing Israel too far. And other Americans sympathetic to the Israeli position say worse, that you are perhaps selling Israel down the river. My question is, first, do you think you are, and secondly, how difficult will it be for you to continue your policy if the American Jewish community sides with Mr. Begin instead of Mr. Carter?
THE PRESIDENT. I might say, first of all, that I look forward with great anticipation to the visit of Prime Minister Begin on the 19th of July. My determination is that the talks will be friendly and constructive and also instructive for both him and me.
He'll be received with the kind of friendship that's always been a characteristic of the American people's attitude toward Israel. An overwhelming consideration for us is the preservation of Israel as a free and independent and, hopefully, peaceful nation. That is preeminent. At the same time, I believe that it has been good during this year, when I hope we can reach a major step toward a peaceful resolution in the Middle East, to have the discussions much more open, to encourage the Arab nations and Israel to frankly understand some of the feelings that each of them has toward the other, and to address the basic questions of territories, the definition of peace, the Palestinian question.
I really think it is best for this next roughly 3 weeks before Mr. Begin comes that we refrain from additional comments on specifics because I think we've covered the specifics adequately. And if I or someone in the State Department or someone on my staff emphasizes territory and the definition of peace, the immediate response is: Why didn't you say something about the Palestinians, and so forth. So, I believe that we've discussed it adequately.
I believe all the issues are fairly clearly defined. It's accurate to say that our own Nation has no plan or solution that we intend to impose on anyone. We'll act to the degree that the two sides trust us in the role of an intermediary or mediator, and I still have high hopes that this year might lead toward peace.
But it will never be with any sort of abandonment of our deep .and permanent commitment to Israel. And I have made this clear in specific terms to every Arab leader who has been to our country.
JULY 28, 1977
ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS IN OCCUPIED TERRITORIES
Q. Mr. President, in your view, did the Israeli embrace of the three settlements on the West Bank diminish in any way the prospects for a negotiated settlement in that part of the world?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think that any move toward making permanent the settlements in the occupied territories or the establishment of new settlements obviously increases the difficulty in ultimate peace.
It's not an insurmountable problem. The matter of legalizing existing settlements was a subject that was never discussed by me or Prime Minister Begin. My own concern was with the establishment of new settlements. And I let him know very strongly that this would be a matter that would cause our own Government deep concern.
This matter of settlements in the occupied territories has always been characterized by our Government, by me and my predecessors as an illegal action. But I think that the establishment of new territories [settlements] or the recognition of existing territories [settlements] to be legal, both provide obstacles to peace, obstacles which I think we can overcome, by the way.
Q. Could I follow up on that, Mr. President? I believe you said just a moment ago that Mr. Begin gave you no advance hint of this action that he took this week on the settlements. You said that you discussed future settlements. Can you tell us what he said about that? Is he going to encourage new settlements there, and what did you tell him about that?
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Begin did not give me any promise about his action on the settlement question. I did describe to him our longstanding position on the settlements, which I've already outlined, and told him that this was a major item of potential differences between Israel and the Arab countries and my strong hope that nothing would be done by the Israeli Government in establishing new settlements that might exacerbate an already difficult position.
He listened to me very carefully. He said this was a major political issue in Israel, that in many instances he and his opposition political parties in Israel, felt the same about it, but that he was certainly aware of our concern. But he did not give me any commitments about what he would do.
And to answer the other part of your question, he did not give me any prior notice that they were going to recognize the legality of the settlements involved.
Q. Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Schram [Martin J. Schram, Newsday].
Q. Mr. President, at the risk of going back over well-plowed ground, I'd like to ask you why it is that you did not ask Mr. Begin what his plans were concerning the existing settlements on the West Bank, and more specifically, were you led to believe from your own studies in advance of those talks that he was not going to take this action?
THE PRESIDENT. I hate to admit it to you, Mr. Schram, but I did not think about raising the subject of recognizing the legality of those settlements. The item that I wanted to discuss with him--and I did--both in the public meeting with Cabinet members and also privately upstairs in the White House, was the establishment of new settlements. And I pointed out to him, as I've said earlier, that I thought the establishment of new settlements would be a very difficult thing for public opinion to accept, both here and in the Arab countries, and that if-he pointed out to me that new settlers, as a result of his campaign statements and those of his opponents, were eager to go into the area--I don't think it's violating any confidence to tell you what I said, and that was that I thought it would be easier for us to accept an increase in the population of existing settlements than it would be to accept the establishment of new settlements. But I did not think about talking to him concerning the granting of legal status to those settlements. It was an oversight which never was discussed.
PRIME MINISTER BEGIN
Q. Mr. President, isn't there a basic conflict between all the talk of progress we heard around here during the Begin visit and at the time he left, and the first action that he took upon returning to Israel and the rejection of the idea that we could have any influence over what moves he might make to the West Bank settlements?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it's not fair to overly criticize Prime Minister Begin. The fact is that under the previous Mapai Coalition, the labor government, that settlements have been built there, a fairly large number. The number of people involved is quite small. And this is not a new thing. I think it would be a mistake to overemphasize it or to exaggerate the significance of it. We feel that any restraint that Prime Minister Begin might want to exert on this subject would certainly be contributory toward peace.
I think he's in a position now of great strength in Israel. I think that his voice would be honored by the Israeli people. But he, like myself, has run on campaign commitments, and I think he's trying to accommodate the interest of peace as best, he can. That doesn't mean that the settlements are right, but I think it would not be proper to castigate him unnecessarily about it because he's continuing policies that have been extant in Israel for a long time. And the Israeli Government has never claimed that these settlements are permanent. What they have done is to say that they are legal at the present time.
I think that that's all I know about the subject, and that's certainly all that I'm going to say now.
JULY 29, 1977
ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS IN OCCUPIED LANDS
Q. Mr. President, do you have a commitment from Prime Minister Begin before he left here that he would not formalize or legalize the three settlements on the West Bank?
THE PRESIDENT. No, we did not discuss his legalizing those settlements. We did discuss my concern about the adverse impact of establishing new settlements. He did not promise me anything on the subject, and we did not even discuss the E question.
Q. So that you weren't upset by the fact that they did legalize these settlements?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I was upset. As I said I think it's an obstacle to peace. And I let Mr. Begin know very clearly that our Government policy, before I became President and now, is that these settlements are illegal and contravene the Geneva conference terms.
Mr. Begin disagrees with this. But we've spelled this out very clearly on several occasions in the United Nations and other places that these settlements are illegal.
I think that it's accurate to say that the Israeli Government has never maintained that they are permanent but, that on a temporary basis, maybe extending quite a while in the future in their view, that they are legalized, but not as a permanent settlement.
Israel has never claimed hegemony over the West Bank territory, as you know. And I think that it would be a mistake, as I said in my press conference yesterday, to condemn Mr. Begin about this action because this was a campaign commitment he made. I think what he did was in consonance with the desires of the Israeli people.
But I don't want anybody to misunderstand our feelings about it. We think it's wrong to establish these settlements, it's wrong to insinuate that they are legal, it's certainly wrong to ever claim that they are permanent. And to establish new settlements would be even more unsettling to their Arab neighbors, as we try to go to Geneva in a good spirit of compromise and cooperation, than the allocation of legality by the Government to those already in existence.
Q. Well, this hasn't passed your optimism for a resumption of a peace conference in Geneva?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I'm still optimistic about it. But it's an additional obstacle that we had not anticipated.
AUGUST 10, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
MR. REASONER. Keeping on the Middle East for just one minute, a number of Israeli leaders in private say that you have made drastic changes in America's attitude toward Israel and that they regard you with considerable trepidation. Are you aware of that feeling, and do you think there is justification for it?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I'm aware of that feeling and also many other feelings. There's no single attitude among all Jews in the world or all Israeli citizens. To the extent that Israeli leaders genuinely Want a peace settlement, I think that they have to agree that there will be an acceptance of genuine peace on the part of the Arabs, an adjustment of boundaries in the Middle East which are secure for the Israelis and also satisfy the minimum requirements of the Arab neighbors and the United Nations resolutions, and some solution to the question of the enormous numbers of Palestinian refugees who have been forced out of their homes and who want to have some fair treatment.
These three basic elements are there. And we are trying not only to put forward our own ideas but to search among the different disputing nations for some common basis on which they can reach agreement. We can only act as an intermediary to the extent that the different countries trust us.
So, we've tried to be fair. We've tried to be open when possible. We've kept confidences when they have been given to us in confidence. And I don't know that we can reach a final solution. We are hopeful that we can, and I think world opinion is very powerful on disputing nations when there is a consensus about what ought to be done.
So, we'll continue to labor at it, taking slings and arrows from all directions, criticisms, publicly in nations when privately the leaders say we are willing to do this when we come out publicly for the same position. Quite often for domestic political consumption there's an adamant, very disputive, and antagonistic attitude taken on the part of some leaders. But we are willing to accept this consequence. I don't know how to guarantee an ultimate success, but I am willing to accept the criticism that comes from all parties as we struggle for success.
AUGUST 23, 1977
Q. Mr. President, twice in recent weeks the United States has said that Israel is in violation of international law in terms of the West Bank settlements, which some view as an annexation plan. My question is: What does the United States plan to do to protect the rights of the people in the occupied lands?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's been the position of our own Government, long before I was elected President, that the West Bank territory, the Gaza Strip, areas of the Golan Heights, Sinai region the occupied territories, in other words, were not a part of Israel. Our Government has expressed on several occasions---the President, our Ambassadors to the United Nations and otherwise--that the settlement of Israeli citizens in some of these areas was in violation of the Geneva Convention and that, therefore, the settlements were illegal.
We have private assurances and there have been public statements made by Mr. Begin that these settlements were not intended to show that Israel was to occupy these territories permanently, that the final boundaries to be established through mutual agreement between Israel and the Arab countries was to be decided without prior commitment, and negotiations would include these areas.
So, at this time, our pointing out to Israel that these three settlements that were just established are illegal because they were made on occupied territory, is the extent of our intention.
I concur with the statement that was made by Secretary Vance, the State Department, that this kind of action on the part of Israel, when we are trying to put together a Middle Eastern conference leading to a permanent peace, creates an unnecessary obstacle to peace. I believe that our opinion is shared by the overwhelming number of nations in the world, but we don't intend to go further than our caution to Israel, our open expression of our own concern, and the identification of these settlements as being illegal.
Q. But you don't feel that you have any leverage at all to move in any direction in terms of military aid to Israel to keep her from violating
THE PRESIDENT. Obviously, we could exert pressure on Israel in other ways, but I have no intention to do so.
September 16, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, Jim Wisch, with the Texas Jewish Post, Dallas and Fort Worth.
First of all, on behalf of the American Jewish Publishers Association, I want to thank you for the profound message you sent from your wife, Rosalynn, and yourself to the American Jewish community. It was indeed very sincere. And with regard to your sincerity, which was recognized by all editors across the country, regardless of their background, I want to point up to you your profound statement on the Mideast which we published right before the election, which was highly informative and set out many things that you had proposed to do.
I just returned from the Mideast, where I had a long, long conversation with Ambassador Lewis. And it seems to me there's a great deal of apprehension going on amongst American Jews and Jews of the world, and somehow it rests upon what some of your decisions are going to be.
I think this apprehension could be cleared, because I think there may be a disagreement, perhaps, in semantics rather than in objectives. And I wonder if you had been concerned about your popularity or your interpretation vis-a-vis your embracement of the PLO, and that your regard for them has given them a propaganda ploy where they have become recalcitrant they still employ Chapter 16, the complete destruction of Israel. Now, people think that you are pushing Israel to sit down and recognize the PLO, regardless of that point in the PLO's platform. 242, your resolution, which you so eloquently described last July, says that nobody can sit down unless it's a face-to-face discussion and they recognize the entity of each nation as being a sovereign nation like we are doing with Panama.
And in view of this regard, I wonder if you plan to clear this up or elucidate or however you plan to handle this.
THE PRESIDENT. With all due respect, that's one of the most distorted assessments of my own policy that I've ever heard.
Q. It is not my assessment[laughter]--
THE PRESIDENT. I understand.
Q. But it's incumbent upon me to bring it to you.
THE PRESIDENT. I've never endorsed the PLO. Our Government has had no communication, at all, directly with the PLO. The only communication has been when representatives of the PLO have been to Arab leaders immediately prior to a Cy Vance visit with them or their visit to our country and have delivered messages to us indirectly.
Our agreement with the Israeli Government several years ago, before I became President, was that we would not communicate with the PLO as long as they did not refute their commitment to destroy the nation of Israel and did not accept the right of Israel to exist. Our public position is the same as our private position. There is no difference between them.
We have said that if the PLO would accept publicly the right of Israel to exist and exist in peace, as described under United Nations Resolution 242, that we would meet with them and discuss the future of the Palestinians in the Middle East. We have never called on the PLO to be part of the future negotiations. We have said that the Palestinian people should be represented in the future negotiations. That is one of the three major elements of any agreement that might lead to lasting peace--one is the territorial boundaries; the other one is the Arab countries accepting Israel, to live in peace as neighbors; and the third one is some resolution of the Palestinian question.
I've never called for an independent Palestinian country. We have used the word "entity." And my own preference as expressed in that talk that I made in New Jersey, I think, and now, is that we think that if there is a Palestinian entity established on the West Bank, that it ought to be associated with Jordan, for instance. I think this was the case among many Israeli leaders as their preference in the past.
So, we have been very cautious, very careful, very consistent in spelling out our posture on the Middle Eastern settlements. When we have gone around, for instance--I haven't, but Cy Vance has gone around to Israel, to Jordan, to Syria, to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia--to talk about a future Middle Eastern conference and, hopefully, a settlement, we have taken the same exact written set of principles so there would be no difference among them, and discussed it with Sadat and Hussein and Asad and Fahd and with Mr. Begin, so that there would never be any allegation on any part of theirs that we took one position with the Israelis and a different position with the Arabs. Sometimes the Israelis would say, "We don't accept this principle number 4." Sometimes the Arabs would say, "We don't accept principle number 1." But we've tried to negotiate in good faith.
I might say one other thing. We are not just an idle bystander. We are not just an uninterested intermediary or mediator. Our country has a direct, substantial interest in a permanent peace in the Middle East. And I sincerely hope and I believe that the nations who live there also want to have a permanent settlement and a permanent peace in the Middle East. And the principles that I described in that speech, the principles that the Vice President described in a speech he made in California earlier this year, and the principles that we espouse in our public and private conversations with Arabs and Israelis and with Prime Minister Barre, yesterday, from France, and others who are interested, are exactly the same. We've never deviated.
We have learned a lot. And as we've learned, we've added additional new items onto our basic proposal. But ultimately, the Middle Eastern settlement has got to be an agreement among the parties involved.
Now, I hope that all the countries are eager to negotiate in good faith. I hope that none of them are putting up deliberate obstacles to prevent a Geneva conference from being convened. That's my hope and that's my present expectation.
SEPTEMBER 29, 1977
Q. Mr. President, there have been a lot of confusing statements from the White House and from leaders who have seen you recently on where exactly the United States stands in terms of Palestinian--PLO participation in a Geneva peace conference, if one comes about. Can you really clarify this point?
THE PRESIDENT. I doubt it-[laughter] but I would be glad to try. What we are trying to do now is--as a first and immediate goal--is to bring all the parties in the Mideast dispute to Geneva for a conference. We are dealing with Israel directly. We are dealing directly with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. We are trying to act as an intermediary between Israel and each one of those Arab countries that border their own country.
There are some differences among the Arab nations, which we are trying to resolve, concerning a unified Arab delegation or individual Arab delegations and the format which might be used to let the Palestinian views be represented.
At the same time, we have a further complicating factor in that we are joint chairmen of the Geneva conference along with the Soviet Union. So, in the call for the conference, in the negotiations preceding the format of the conference, we have to deal with the Soviet Union as well. So, on top of all that, and perhaps preeminent in my own mind, is that we are not an idle observer or bystander, we are not just an intermediary or mediator. We have a vital national interest in the ultimate peace in the Middle East.
It's obvious to me that there can be no Middle Eastern peace settlement without adequate Palestinian representation. The Arab countries maintain that the PLO is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian interests. The Israelis say that they won't deal with the Palestinians, or certainly not the well-known PLO members, because they have been identified in the past as committed to the destruction of the nation of Israel.
So, we are trying to get an agreement between the Israelis and the Arab countries, with widely divergent views, about the format of the meeting and, also, who would be welcomed to the conference to represent the Palestinians.
This is something that is still in the negotiating stage, and I cannot predict a final outcome. We have no national position on exactly who would represent the Palestinians or exactly what form the Arab group would take in which the Palestinians would be represented. I just can't answer that question yet because the question has not been answered in my mind.
PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION
Q. Does the United States recognize--recognize is the wrong word-but accept the PLO as a representative of the Palestinians?
THE PRESIDENT. We have pledged to the Israelis in the past, and I have confirmed the pledge, that we will not negotiate with, nor deal directly with the PLO until they adopt United Nations Resolution 242 as a basis for their involvement, which includes a recognition of the right of Israel to exist. We have let this be known to the PLO leaders through various intermediaries, through intermediaries through the United Nations, leaders in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and so forth. They know our position.
If the PLO should go ahead and say, "We endorse U.N. Resolution 242; we don't think it adequately addresses the Palestinian issue because it only refers to refugees and we think we have a further interest in that," that would suit us okay.
We would then begin to meet with and to work with the PLO. Obviously, they don't represent a nation. It is a group that represents, certainly, a substantial part of the Palestinians. I certainly don't think they are the exclusive representatives of the Palestinians. Obviously, there are mayors, for instance, and local officials in the West Bank area who represent Palestinians. They may or may not be members of the PLO. So, we are not trying to define an exact formula that we would prescribe for others. We are trying to find some common ground on which the Israelis and Arabs might get together to meet in Geneva.
I think, by the way, that both the groups, the Arabs and the Israelis, have come a long way. They are genuinely searching for a formula by which they can meet. They want peace. And I think they are to be congratulated already, because in the past number of years they have made very strong and provocative statements against one another, and now, to move toward an accommodation is a difficult thing for them. And we are trying not to make it any more difficult.
Q. Mr. President, what are the assurances given to the PLO in the event of accepting 242?
THE PRESIDENT. If they accept U.N. 242 and the right of Israel to exist, then we will begin discussions with the leaders of the PLO. We are not giving them any further assurance of that because we are not trying to prescribe, as I said, the status of the PLO itself in any Geneva conference. But it would give us a means to understand the special problems of the Palestinians. And as you know, many of the Israeli--some of the Israeli leaders have said that they recognize that the Palestinian question is one of the three major elements. But I can't and have no inclination to give the PLO any assurances other than we will begin to meet with them and to search for some accommodation and some reasonable approach to the Palestinian question if they adopt 242 and recognize publicly the right of Israel to exist.
OCTOBER 14, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. How do you deal, Mr. President, with Israel's fears that if they come to some sort of settlement on the West Bank, any kind of settlement on the West Bank, first they'll be subjected to ongoing terrorism from irreconcilable Arabs over a long period of time or the new government, having gained a new position, declares itself to be hostile towards the State of Israel? How do you deal with those kinds of fears and are these fears legitimate?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, in the first place, any agreement reached in the Middle East would have to be accepted voluntarily by the Israelis and by their Arab neighbors. There won't be any imposition of a settlement by us or the Soviet Union or anyone else. So, you have that much of a safety factor to start with, that no settlement would be reached unless the Israelis wanted that settlement. Secondly, I do not favor and have never favored an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank area or in the Mideast area in presently occupied territory.
We have always, since the first few minutes of the foundation of Israel, had a national policy supporting the integrity, the independence, the freedom, the permanence of Israel, and hoping for peace. All of those factors, I think, have been met--sometimes challenged, but always met--except peace.
Now the Israelis and their neighbors, Arab countries, see the prospect of peace. The Arab leaders are making statements now that they could and would never have made a year ago, recognizing Israel's right to exist, being willing to negotiate with Israel directly if we get to Geneva.
There is a serious question about Palestinian representation. My belief is that when we consider the future status of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Palestinians, that it ought to be negotiated with some participation by Palestinians. I personally think that Israel has agreed--I think this has been announced--that they would accept those Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and that that area would be negotiated by those Palestinians, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel on a multinational basis, because it's all wrapped up in one.
We have also got the prospect of considering as a separate item, but certainly a directly related item, the future of the refugees as such---some Jewish, some, of course, Palestinian. This would be on a multinational basis. But I think every possible right and prospect of Israel's existence, freedom, security in the future will be honored, certainly, by Israelis, backed by us.
OCTOBER 28, 1977
U.S.-SOVIET JOINT STATEMENT ON THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, my name is William Frank, and I'm from Wilmington, Delaware.
There's a movement being started in the city where I live to send you a lot of letters. The text seems to be that the joint Soviet-United States statement on the Mideast 1 represented a severe erosion of the United States posture, and they also will tell you that the abandonment by the United States of solemn promises to Israel raises the question of the reliability of the American commitments. Do you have any comment on that?
1 The text of the October 1 statement is printed in the Department of State Bulletin of November 7, 1977, page 639.
THE PRESIDENT. On the fact that the letters will be sent or the accuracy of the letter itself?
Q. This is a ---
THE PRESIDENT. I welcome the letters. That description of the position is completely erroneous in two respects; I think you only raised two respects. One is that the joint U.S.-Soviet statement, I think, is a major move in the right direction to bringing about an ultimate, peaceful resolution of the longstanding Middle Eastern dispute. The Soviets and we, after long weeks of negotiation, agreed on a common approach which did not contravene any public or private commitments that I've ever made to Israel or to the American public and which represented a substantial change in the previous Soviet commitment, almost uniquely, to the PLO and the Syrian positions.
The Soviets, for instance, for the first time spelled out the need for a peace treaty, for full definitions of peace, which we had espoused. We incorporated the basic language of U.N. Resolution 242 on territories. The PLO was not mentioned. There was an abandonment of the previous Soviet position calling for the recognition of Palestinian national rights and an adoption of our own position that we described earlier.
So, I think it was a major step forward. As you know, ever since 1973 we and the Soviets have been cochairmen of the Geneva conference. This was something established, as I said, 4 years ago. And to have a cochairman who might be publicly and privately opposing any peaceful resolution or openly espousing the unilateral positions of the Arab countries would have been a very serious problem for us to overcome.
I think this is a public commitment of the Soviets to take a much more objective and fair and well-balanced position. So, I think it's a major step in the right direction.
And the other part of your question is that I have never violated any commitments made to the Israelis, either by my administration or by the previous administrations. Both I and Foreign Minister Dayan, within the last month or two, reviewed in a confidential way all of the publicly disclosed and private agreements that had been reached between Mr. Kissinger and the Israeli Government, and between the Presidents who preceded me here and between myself and the Israeli Government. There has not been and will not be any violation of those commitments.
NOVEMBER 10, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, it's our understanding that some of your top national security advisers met yesterday in the White House Situation Room to sort of reassess the situation in the Middle East in light of the recent trouble on the Lebanon border. Can you give us some assessment this morning, especially what effect this might have on the Middle East peace conference later this year?
THE PRESIDENT. This new outburst of violence is a great concern to us and, I think, to the nations in the Middle East, to all people of the world. The unwarranted and continuing terrorist attacks have been part of the Middle East picture for years. The retaliatory measures taken by nations who were attacked by terrorists has been a part of the picture in the Middle East for years. I think it shows the volatile nature there of the continuing problems.
I think it shows in a much more vivid way than perhaps in the past, recent past, the need for an immediate convening of the Geneva conference as soon as we can get these national leaders to sit down, or their representatives to sit down on a continuing basis and work out face to face these divisions that have existed in the Middle East for generations.
Loss of life is deplorable. But the situation is never going to be improved, in my opinion, until those nations there are willing to step beyond the procedural debates and squabbles about exactly how to go and exactly what representation will be present and start dealing with the real issues. I've been pleased that the Israeli Government has adopted the procedures for the Geneva conference that we've proposed. I was pleased with the statement yesterday by President Sadat that he was willing to go to Geneva or anywhere else and begin to consult directly with Israel and with the other Arab nations without quibbling any more about the detailed wording of the procedures. That's our position.
I hope that Jordan and Syria and Lebanon very quickly will make a similar response to us, and that we can then convene the Geneva conference. But the major all-encompassing question in the Middle East is that the bloodshed, in my opinion, will not be stopped until the nations are willing to negotiate on the basic divisions that have separated them so long.
Q. Well, do you think the Israeli attack was justified--the retaliation?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think this is a question that's hard for me to answer-whether Israel can sit dormant and quiescent and accept repeated attacks on their border villages without retaliation, whether the retaliation was excessive. Those are questions that I think both answers would be, perhaps, yes. There ought not to be any attacks. If there are continued attacks, some retaliation is required.
I don't know the details of it, but I think the overriding consideration is not to condemn Israel at this point for retaliation, but just to say that if the provocations were absent that the retaliation would have been unnecessary. And the best way to resolve it is for Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, relating to that region of the Mideast, for Jordan and Egypt and Israel to start direct negotiations. The whole tiling is just sitting and teetering on another outbreak of even more major violence. And I think that at this time, a condemnation of people is probably inappropriate, but an urge for all nations now to stop this present, recent outbreak and to move toward major consultations is the only answer that I can give.
NOVEMBER 30, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
PRESIDENT. The other comment I'd like to make is concerning the Middle East. In the last few days we have seen, I believe, an historic breakthrough in the search for a permanent, lasting peace in the Middle East because of the true leadership qualities that have been exhibited by the courage of President Sadat and the gracious reception of him in Israel by Prime Minister Begin.
This has been, already, a tremendous accomplishment. I think the importance of it is that there has been an initiation of direct, person-to-person negotiations between Israel and the major power in the Mideast among the Arab nations who are Israel's neighbors. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan have a total population of about 12 million; Egypt has a population of 36 million and has by far the greatest military force. And the fact that this strongest Arab country and the nation of Israel are now conducting direct negotiations is a major accomplishment in itself.
Two of Israel's most cherished desires have already been met. One is this face-to-face negotiation possibility, and the other one is a recognition by a major Arab leader that Israel has a right to exist. In fact, President Sadat said, "We welcome you in our midst."
The United States has been very pleased to see this reduction in distrust and a reduction in fear and a reduction in suspicion between the Arabs and the Israelis. We have played a close consultative role with both of these leaders. We have, on several instances recently, acted as intermediaries at their request. Both Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat have publicly expressed their reconfirmation that these exploratory talks are designed to lead toward a comprehensive settlement including Israel and all her neighbors.
Sunday, President Sadat called for a conference in Cairo. This is likely to be held around the 13th of December, about the middle of December. We will participate in that conference at a high level--Assistant Secretary Atherton 1 will represent our Nation. We look on this as a very constructive step. The road toward peace has already led through Jerusalem, will now go to Cairo and ultimately, we believe, to a comprehensive consultation at Geneva.
1 Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.
It's not an easy thing to bring about a comprehensive peace settlement. Immediate expectations have sometimes been exaggerated. The definition of real peace--I think we've made good progress on that already. The resolution of the Palestinian question still has not been decided. And the solution to the problem concerning borders and national security has also not been decided.
We have played, I think, a proper role. I have tried to convince, in the past, Prime Minister Begin of the good intentions of President Sadat and vice versa. When there has been no progress being made, the United States has taken the initiative. Now that progress is being made, a proper role for the United States is to support that progress and to give the credit to the strong leadership that's already been exhibited by Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat and to let our Nation be used, as called upon, to expedite the peace process.
I believe that this is a move that the whole world looks upon with great appreciation. And again, I want to express my congratulations and my appreciation to these two strong leaders for the tremendous progress already made and for their commitment to future progress.
Q. Mr. President, what is your reaction to Secretary General Waldheim's suggestion for a post-Cairo, pre-Geneva Middle East conference at the United Nations or on some neutral ground?
THE PRESIDENT. As you know, Secretary General Waldheim has also agreed to send a high-level representative to the conference to be held in Cairo. I don't know yet what position our country will take toward a potential meeting at the United Nations. We've not received any invitation to it. I noticed in the news this morning that Israel has said that they would not participate. But it's too early for us to decide whether or not we will go to any conference, if one is actually held at the United Nations.
Q. Mr. President, Egypt and Israel can legitimately deal with themselves, but can Egypt really represent all the other parties, when they're not even at the conference, and the Palestinians, who have never had a say in their own political destiny?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that President Sadat, in his private communications with me and even in his public statements, has said that he is trying as best he can to represent the Arab position concerning Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and also the resolution of the Palestinian question.
Obviously, the leaders in Syria, even Jordan, certainly the PLO, have not recognized that Egypt is speaking for them adequately. I think, though, that in his speech to the Knesset, in his followup speech to the People's Assembly in Egypt, President Sadat has evoked very clearly the basic Arab position that I have understood in my private conversations with President Asad from Syria and with the King of Jordan, Hussein.
So, I believe that this is an exploratory effort that does accurately represent the basic differences between Israel and all their neighbors. And the fact that Jordan and Syria have not been willing to participate, I don't think has dampened President Sadat's commitment or enthusiasm at all. It is constructive, and I think what he discovers in his already completed discussions with Prime Minister Begin and those that might be taking place in Egypt in the middle of next month will certainly be conducive to pursuing the Arab cause.
I think it's constructive, because for the first time, the Arab position on those controversial issues has been spelled out very clearly for worldwide understanding. And I think the differences that have been faced by us and others for long years are now much more clearly understood by the public. The differences are still sharp; the resolution of those differences is going to be very difficult. I think that to the best of his ability, President Sadat is speaking for the Arab world.
Q. Mr. President, if the other Arabs refuse--continue to refuse not to sit down with Israel, would the United States oppose it if Egypt and Israel somehow worked out some sort of separate agreement? Would that be a good thing, and what would our position be on that?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we and Egypt and Israel have all taken the position, publicly, and the same position privately among ourselves, that a separate peace agreement between Egypt and Israel to the exclusion of the other parties is not desirable. This is predicated upon the very viable hope that a comprehensive settlement can be reached among all the parties involved. If at some later date it becomes obvious that Jordan does not want peace or that Syria does not want peace or that Lebanon does not want peace in a settlement with Israel, then an alternative might have to be pursued. But we've certainly not reached that point yet.
I think that the other Arab leaders do want peace with Israel. And I am certainly not even considering, and neither is Sadat nor Begin, any assumption that the possibilities for peace have narrowed down to just two nations.
Q. Mr. President, to come back to the Middle East for a minute, is the United States Government taking any concrete steps with some of the other governments that have been reluctant, such as Syria, the PLO, which is not a government, and the other countries, to bring them into this process that has been initiated by Israel and Egypt? And if so, what steps are we taking?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, not with the PLO; we have no contact with the PLO. But with Jordan and with Syria, with Lebanon and, in a supportive role, with the Saudi Arabians and others, we have played, I think, an adequate role. At the time we discovered that President Sadat was going to make a proposal to go to Jerusalem, we immediately began to use whatever influence we had available to us to encourage the other nations not to condemn President Sadat. This particularly applied to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, to the European countries, to the Soviet Union, and to Syria. In some instances, either they decided not to condemn him or our influence was successful.
We would like very much to keep any of the nations involved in the immediate Middle Eastern discussions from rejecting an ultimate peace settlement and withdrawing from the prospect of going to Geneva. This includes, of course, Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat. They have not rejected the concept that there must be a comprehensive settlement.
In the meantime, we don't see anything wrong; in fact, we look with great favor on the bilateral negotiations between Israel and Egypt. In the meantime, we are trying to induce the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Jordanians, and, as I say again, in a supporting role, the Saudis and others, to support both the ongoing negotiations that will continue from Jerusalem into Cairo and also to avoid any condemnation of Sadat that might disrupt his influence and put an obstacle to peace in the future.
That's about all we can do. We have no control over any nation in the Middle East. When we find the progress in the Middle East being stopped, we use all the initiative that we can. When we see progress being made by the parties themselves, we support them to move on their own.
I think it's much more important to have direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel than to have us acting as a constant, dominant intermediary. I think this is a major step in the right direction. We hope later that Jordan and Syria and Lebanon will join in these discussions, either individually or as a comprehensive group, dealing with Israel directly.
Q. Mr. President, you used the word "induce." What inducements is the United States Government offering to Syria and the others?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are not offering them any payment of money or anything, but we primarily capitalize on their clear determination, their clear desire to have peace. There is no doubt in my mind at all that President Asad, who has been one of the most highly critical leaders of what Sadat did--there's no doubt in my mind that President Asad wants peace with Israel, and there's no doubt in my mind that King Hussein wants peace with Israel. And sometimes it's very difficult for them to communicate directly with Israel.
We act as an intermediary there. We meet with those leaders on both sides. Obviously, if there should be a breakthrough in the future, similar to what occurred between Egypt and Israel--let's say, for instance, that if King Hussein said he would like to negotiate directly with Prime Minister Begin, we would support that enthusiastically and offer our good offices to encourage such an interchange. But we don't have any inclination nor ability to dominate anyone nor to require them to take action contrary to what they think is in the best interests of their nation.
DECEMBER 15, 1977
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, there are reports that Prime Minister Begin is bringing along some of his peace proposals to discuss with you. My question is, if the United States underwrites peace, will we have a say in terms of what real peace is, if it gives economic aid, psychological aid, security, and so forth? And I have a followup.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, our hope and our goal has been that the nations directly involved in the Middle Eastern crisis, the Middle Eastern disputes, would meet directly with one another and reach agreements that would encompass three basic questions. One is the definition of real peace, genuine peace, predictable peace, relationship among human beings that might transcend the incumbency of any particular leader. I think President Sadat has made a major stride already in the achievement of what is real peace. The second one is the withdrawal of the Israelis from territory and, at the same time, the assurance that they would have secure borders. And the third one, of course, is to resolve the Palestinian question.
As I've said before, the direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel is a major step forward. We are attending the Cairo conference and will offer our good services when it's needed. But the basic responsibility will be on the shoulders of the two nations directly involved. As you know, United Nations observers are also there. Other countries were invited by President Sadat to attend--Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Soviet Union. They have not yet accepted that invitation.
We are not trying to define the terms of peace. Anything that is acceptable to Israel and her neighbors will certainly be acceptable to us. But we are always available, I hope, as a trusted intermediary on occasion to break a deadlock or add a supportive word or in a way to introduce one of those leaders to another and convince the opposite party that each leader is acting in good faith.
I have no idea what proposals, if any, Prime Minister Begin will bring to me tomorrow morning. But he and I will meet privately, just the two of us for a while at his request, and I will listen to what his report might be, and we will be constructive as we have been in the past.
Q. Mr. President, your preference for a general or comprehensive settlement in the Middle East is quite understandable, one that could be endorsed by all the interested parties. But I wonder if you think, in light of what has happened since President Sadat's visit, since many people feel that Israel has no real worries about a one-front war, that if an agreement, formal or informal, even a real warming takes place between Israel and Egypt, that you could have de facto peace in the Middle East, perhaps not as neat and wrapped up as a treaty, that would be a major accomplishment in itself? And do you think that it may have to come to that as a result of President Asad's opposition to the talks and the PLO?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, our immediate hope and goal is that any peace move made by Israel and Egypt would be acceptable to the moderate Arab leaders in the Middle East, certainly King Hussein in Jordan, certainly the Saudi Arabians. We have had good indications in my personal visits with President Asad that he wants to resolve the differences. Lebanon is heavily influenced, as you know, by Syrian presence there. The PLO have been completely negative. They have not been cooperative at all.
In spite of my own indirect invitation to them and the direct invitations by Sadat and by Asad, by King Hussein, by King Khalid in Saudi Arabia, the PLO have refused to make any move toward a peaceful attitude. They have completely rejected United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. They have refused to make a public acknowledgement that Israel has a right to exist, to exist in peace. So, I think they have, themselves, removed the PLO from any immediate prospect of participation in a peace discussion.
But I certainly would not ascribe that short of intransigence or negative attitude toward any of the other parties who have been mentioned as possible participants. We want to be sure that at least moderate Palestinians are included in the discussions. And this is an attitude that's mirrored not only by myself but also by Prime Minister Begin, President Sadat, and others. So, I think they are all major steps, already having been taken, to delineate those who are immediately eager to conclude a step toward peace--those like President Asad, who will wait a while and see what does occur, to see if the Golan Heights question can be resolved and so forth, and those who have in effect removed themselves from serious consideration like the PLO.
DECEMBER 30, 1977
THE MIDDLE' EAST
Q. Mr. President, are you likely to go to Egypt next Wednesday, and if you do, will it be primarily because President Sadat has urged you to go, or for some other purpose, or why?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have a standing invitation from President Sadat to visit Egypt that he extended to me on his trip to Washington. And he's reemphasized it several times since that date. We have had no discussions with President Sadat on that particular visit to Egypt while I'm on this trip. We will try to keep our schedule flexible. If it's mutually convenient and desirable, we would certainly consider it. But we have no plans at this time to stop in Egypt next Wednesday or any other time on this trip.
I might say that our own relations with the Arab nations, including, certainly, Egypt, are very good and harmonious. There has been no change in our own position relating to the Middle Eastern talks. And we communicate almost daily with the Egyptian and Israeli leaders. And as you know, I will be meeting King Hussein in Tehran on our next stop on this trip.
Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].
Q. You said you often don't intend and don't desire to dictate the terms of a Middle East settlement.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. This is true.
Q. And yet President Sadat seems to think that you have pulled the rug out from under him and that you are in fact dictating terms when you are backing an Israeli military presence on the West Bank at Gaza after there would be a settlement.
THE PRESIDENT. We don't back any Israeli military settlement in the Gaza Strip or on the West Bank. We favor, as you know, a Palestinian homeland or entity there. Our own preference is that this entity be tied in to Jordan and not be a separate and independent nation. That is merely an expression of preference which we have relayed on numerous occasions to the Arab leaders, including President Sadat when he was with me in Washington. I've expressed the same opinion to the Israelis, to King Hussein, and to President Asad, and also to the Saudi Arabians. We have no intention of attempting to impose a settlement. Any agreement which can be reached between Israel and her Arab neighbors would be acceptable. to us. We are in a posture of expressing opinions, trying to promote intimate and direct negotiations and communications, expediting the process' when it seems to be slow, and adding our good offices whenever requested. But we have no intention or desire to impose a settlement.
Source: Public Papers of the President