President Carter forecast yesterday that a Middle East peace settlement is likely to involve Israeli withdrawal from all but "minor" portions of the Arab territory it captured in 1967, but suggested that Israel's pullback may be phased over eight years or more.
Speaking to reporters at his third televised press conference, Carter appeared to be aligning his statements toward the policy and thinking of previous U.S. administrations and backing away from his surprise endorsement Monday of the Israeli demand for "defensible borders." As it has been used in Israel, "defensible borders" has implied the retention of large amounts of occupied Arab land.
Carter declared that demilitarized zones occupied by "international forces" and electronic listening posts could "very well be part of a [middle East] agreement." He said he will discuss this possibility with Arab leaders soon to visit Washington, implying he had already taken it up with the Israelis.
Two hours after Carter spoke, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said here that while his country will take advice from anyone, "the borders of peace [and] the security arrangements will be decided only by the participants to the conflict." Rabin's statement to presidents of American Jewish organizations, shortly before ending his three-day stay in Washington, appeared to put Carter on notice that Israel rather than the United States will make the crucial decisions.
Following a practice begun at his first press conference four weeks ago, Carter disclosed several new arms control proposals that he has made to the Soviet Union in recent weeks.
He reported for the first time that he has asked Moscow to head off a possible military buildup in outer space by agreeing with the United States not to arm space satellites and not to develop weapons to destroy other nations' satellites. A recent resumption of Soviet tests of hunter-killer satellites has prompted increased U.S. military concern and new Pentagon work on U.S. armed satellites, it was reported in January.
Carter also revealed that he has asked Russia to agree that the Indian Ocean be "completely demilitarized." The U.S. military has opposed such proposals in the past, and government officials who have worked in this area expressed surprise at Carter's revelation. In recent weeks a U.S. naval task force in the Indian Ocean - which presumbly would be banned under Carter's plan - was used a show of force in deterring any action against American citizens by Ugandan President Idi Amin.
The President was able to give no hint of Soviet agreement to these or other, previously disclosed arms control suggestions he has made, including a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests and prior notification of test missile launchings. He also said he had no indication that the Russians have withdrawn their opposition to a quick Salt II agreement which bypasses the difficult questions of the U.S. cruise missiles and Soviet Backfire bombers.
Carter said he has proposed to the Russians "directly and indirectly . . . publicly and privately" that the two countries try to reach early agreement on arms control matters which are relatively uncontroversial as a sign of good faith. But he added that "none of them are very easy."
The press conference also brought Carter's first public reaffirmation since becoming President of his longstanding campaign position that U.S. ground troops should be withdrawn from South Korea over a four-or five-year period. "I am very determined" to take this action, he declared.
About two hours after Carter spoke, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance officially notified South Korean Foreign Minister Park Tong Chin of the government's decision to remove the ground forces on a schedule not yet determined.
Vance told the Korean in a State Department meeting that detailed U.S. plans should be ready for discussion with the Seoul government late this spring, informed sources said. Park reportedly did not seek to dissuade the United States from withdrawing the troops but expressed concern that there be no mistake in North Korea or elsewhere about the continuing U.S. security commitment to Seoul.
Carter met for 45 minutes late yesterday at the White House with Park on both troop withdrawal and human rights questions. Carter said at his news conference that he had previously discussed the withdrawal of ground troops with Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., the U.S. commander in South Korea. The meeting took place Feb. 18.
Officials said studies are under way to determine how many of the 40,000 U.S. troops in South Korea will be classified as "ground forces" to be withdrawn. About 14,000 men are in the Second Infantry Division, the major U.S. ground combat unit, with many thousands of others in support units.
In previous statements Carter and Vance have suggested that U.S. Air Force personnel - which currently number about 9,000 - would be left in Korea and some proposals have been made that they be augmented to show U.S. determination.
Carter said at his press conference that "I would envision a continuation of American air cover for South Korea over a long period of time" but he did not specifically say whether the air cover would be based there or outside the country.