President Carter told a conference of Jewish representatives from 30 countries last night that "in temperance or partisanship" could imperil "the best opportunity for a permanent Middle East peace settlement in our lifetime."
In remarks prepared for delivery to the World Jewish Congress, meeting at the Capital Hilton Hotel. Carter reiterated his appeal for an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territories and a resolution of the Palestinian question.
"This is not a time for intemperance or partisanship," he said. "It is a time for strong and responsible leadership and a willingness to explore carefully and thoughtfully the intentions of others. arter's mention of partisanship was clearly a reference to Senate Minority Leader Howard II Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), who in a speech to the same organization Tuesday sharply criticized the administration's Middle East policy for playing "Russian roulette" with world peace and Israel's security.
Baker specifically criticized a joint statement issued last month by the United States and the Soviet Union which set out certain guidelines for the convening of a Geneva peace conference on the Middle East. Bringing the Soviet Union into the negotiating process. Baker charged, "changes sharply the direction of American foreign policy in the Middle East."
The Soviet-American statement caused an uproar in the American Jewish community, further fueling a general sense of unease among Israel's supporters about the direction of administration policy in the Middle East. As a result, the President spoke last night to a somewhat skeptical, and in some cases perhaps hostile, audience about his hopes for a Middle East peace settlement.
But Carter made no mention in his remarks of the joint statement or the Soviet Union as he asserted that the prospects for serious, face-to-face negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbors "are within reach."
Saying that the United States "cannot merely be idle bystanders" in seeking peace in "this most dangerous region of the world," the President reaffirmed what he called "the three key issues" in any peace settlements.
These are, he said, "the obligations of peace, including the full normalization of political, economic and cultural relations: second the establishment of effective security measures, couple to Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories and agreement on final recognized and secure borders: and third, a resolution of the Palestine question."
These are the same three issues Carter has stressed since taking office and which form the core of his Middle East policy.
While the President claimed that great strides have been made toward a Geneva peace conference, he also warned that obstacles remain. Among these, he said, are the Israeli settlements in occupied territories which the United States considers to be a "violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention," and the Palestine Liberation Organization's refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist.
"Negotiations will no doubt be prolonged and often difficult," Carter said. "But we are in this to stay, I will personally be prepared to use the influence of the United States to help the negotiations succeed. We will not impose our will on any party but we will constantly encourage and try to assist the process of conciliation."
The President also reaffirmed that the continuation of American and to Israel, saying "we shall stand by Israel always," and he cautioned against allowing the complexities of the issues to lead to a self-defeating pessimism.
"Some would say that peace cannot be achieved because of the accumulated mistrust and the deep emotions dividing Israelis and Arabs," he said. "Some would say that we must realistically resign ourselves to the prospect of unending struggle and conflict in the Middle East.
"With such an attitude of resignation, Israel would never have been created, and with such an attitude peace would not be achieved," he continued." What is needed is both vision and realism, so that strong leadership can transform the hostility of the past into a peaceful and constuctive future."
Carter began his speech with a brief reference to human rights, another issue of crucial importance to Jews around the world.
"Our actions in the field of human rights must vary according to the appropriateness and effectiveness of one kind of action or another, but our judgments must be made according to a single standard," he said. "Oppression is reprehensible, whether its victims are blacks in South Africa or American Indians in the Western Hemisphere or Jews in the Soviet Union or dissenters in Chile or Czechoslovakia."
Even before the President spoke, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, advocates of a stiffer line in U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, issued a statement critical of the administration's Middle East policy.
The Soviet-American statement of last month, the group charged, represented a victory for the Soviets and a "step in the direction of an imposed settlement."