Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger said today he will urge the incoming Reagan administration to station naval, air and specialized ground forces in the Middle East to offset increased Societ military presence in the region and enhance the U.S. position here.
The permanent U.S. military presence, Kissinger said, would supplant the concept of a U.S. Rapid Deployment Force embraced by the Carter administration and would give some "concrete content" to America's commitment to stem Soviet expansion in the Middle East.
As Kissinger wound up his three-day visit here, after seeing Prime Minister Menachem Begin and top ministers in the cabinet, Israeli government sources who participated in the discussions said they were encouraged by his firm stance on the U.S. strategic role. Despite disclaimers about not representing the incoming administration's views, Kissinger has been widely perceived in Israel as having been commissioned by President-elect Ronald Reagan as a sounding board for future policy and to test reactions in the Middle East.
His remarks last weekend in Mogadishu, Somalia, about the need to confront the Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa were similarly interpreted as harbingers of Reagan administration attitudes.
The former secretary of state again stressed in a press conference today that he is here on a "private visit," but he said: "You can be sure that I will state analagous views to senior officials of the incoming administration, but I don't know what conclusions they will draw."
He added: "I'm not talking about large expeditionary forces. At this moment, what we need are facilities out of which air forces and naval forces may be called [and] specialized ground forces can operate."
He said he did not know what size military forces he would recommend to Reagan to place in the region, but declared, "It can be a serious effort."
"We cannot refrain from doing what is necessary because we are mesmerized by the illusion that the Soviets can do anything they want and we can do nothing," Kissinger said.
When asked what Soviet response he would expect from such a move, he replied, "The Soviet response can't be much worse than they've already done. What more can they do except move 100,000 troops into Afghanistan, 18,000 Cubans into Ethopia, Soviet generals into Ethiopia, Libyan troops into Chad?"
Kissinger expressed skepticism toward the idea of a Rapid Deployment Force for the region, saying "I do not think the leaders of this area who are concerned about this can visualize the concept of a Rapid Deployment Force that comes from the United States 8,000 miles away -- into what?"
Instead, he urged, the United States should "put some visible American presence in this perimeter" and adopt a stratetic policy "that enables us to be relevant to these crises together with other interested countries, one way or another."
Israeli officials said they were also encouraged by Kissinger's press conference criticism of the independent Middle East peace initiative being advanced by European countries and his insistence that any future "Jordan option" is resolving the Palestinian issue be wedded to the Camp David peace process and the stalled negotiations for limited autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.
About the European initiative, Kissinger said, "I consider it improbable that there can be two different approaches that are both correct. One of these approaches is likely to be wrong."
Moreover, he said, the European promise of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would not ease Arab-Israeli tensions.He said Jordan should be "built into" the autonomy talks, but only in the context of the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations and not as a separate peace option.