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Jimmy Carter Administration: Views on the Middle East

(April 26 & May 10, 1977)

While Israel was in the final weeks of the Knesset election campaign, President Carter met with King Hussein in Washington and with President Assad in Geneva. Among the topics discussed were secure borders and political frontiers, demilitarized zones and Palestinian representation in the Geneva conference.

Statement of April 26:

Q: Mr. President, could you clarify a point? On the participation of the Palestinians, the possible participation with a Jordanian delegation, do you mean PLO representatives or Palestinians who are not part of the PLO?

A: It is too early to start spelling out specifics about that. The one thing I might add on which all the leaders seem to agree is that the more agreement that we can reach before going to Geneva, the less argument there is going to be about the form of the Palestinian representation.

And I think unless we see some strong possibility for substantial achievements before the Geneva Conference can be convened, unless we see that prospect, then I think it would be better not to have the Geneva Conference at all.

So far, though, I have been encouraged. I think it would be a mistake to expect too much. The differences are very wide and long-standing and deep. But I found a strong desire among all the leaders with whom I met so far to marshal extraordinary efforts during this year because of the moderate leadership that exists in the Middle East and because of the experiences that have been so devastating in the past. So we are an determined to do the best we can in '77.

I think that the exact composition of the delegations, involving the Palestinians, of course, and the interrelationships that exist among the Arab nations, whether part of the discussions would be done as a group and part of them... Those kind of things have to be worked out.

Statement of May 10:

Q: Mr. President, how did your day go in the meetings with President Assad?

A: We have a very good personal relationship now, I think, with the leaders of Israel and Egypt, I think with King Hussein of Jordan and now with President Assad of Syria, and this is a very crucial element prior to any major progress on settling the difficult Middle Eastern question. Nobody could guarantee any progress this year, of course. But unless all those leaders and their people trust us as an honorable intermediary, being willing to tell the truth and willing to be objectively fair, I don't think any progress is possible.

I was very pleased at the relationship that I had formed with President Assad today, and I think everyone who was there would agree and, of course, after the elections in Israel, I want to meet with the new leader of that country.

Prince Fahd will be coming to see me in Washington - these are necessary prerequisites I think to progress - as I have said many times, there is no way we can impose settlement on the countries involved.

My judgment is that they want to make progress this year. These preliminary deep consultations for hours and hours of time to explore the complicated facts of the Middle Eastern question which has been disruptive for almost thirty years is necessary.

Q: Mr. President, did President Assad seem prepared to go to a Geneva Conference this year, and did he give you any idea of how he saw Palestinians being represented there?

A: Well, the answer to both of those questions is yes. He is willing to go to a Geneva Conference provided the arrangements can be made, and he did express his opinion to me about how the Palestinians should be represented there.

Q: Is it your opinion that Mr. Assad will settle for anything less than every inch of the Golan Heights?

A: Well, I'd rather let him speak for himself. I'm not in a position of trying to lay down a settlement, and I am also not in a position to reveal what different leaders say to me privately. He's always free to comment, for himself.

Q: Mr. President, now that you've spoken with all these leaders, do you still think there's a possibility of having defense outposts beyond legal boundaries as you have mentioned once, before?

A: Well, I think that's certainly a possibility. Obviously, the terrain is different in different parts in that region. On the Sinai, it's crucial that you have long-range radar because of the distances involved and the topography of the land.

In the Golan Heights, which I have visited, there are areas involved which are much less. The distances are closer. The vantage points can be used perhaps adequately just by visual observations.

So I wouldn't want to set out now with a complicated border or what type of observation posts might be required to insure peace. Nor would I want to spell out at this time the composition of peacekeeping forces that might be stationed in the zones on each side of the future borders.

But those things are discussed in some depth with every one of the leaders, and that general concept has been accepted, yes.


Sources: Public Papers of the President