Upon his return from London, Mr. Carter stated that Israel has a special relationship with the U.S. entitling it to special treatment in the arms sales policy he was developing. This assurance came after a series of negative decisions regarding arms sales to Israel that were viewed in Jerusalem with growing concern. In an effort to alleviate such fears, the President also said that there should not be any doubt about the U.S. commitment "to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace." Excerpts:
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 co-production with Israel?
A: 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 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?
A: 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.