Thursday, June 19, 2014

40 years ago: U.S. President Richard Nixon declares hope for lasting peace in the Middle East

On June 12, 1974, U.S. President Richard Nixon, who was being threatened by impeachment over his involvement in the scandal surrounding the 1972 break-in at the headquarters of the Democratice National Committee at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. and the subsequent cover-up, arrived in Egypt to begin a visit to the Middle East. The following day, Mr. Nixon and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, meeting in Cairo, agreed to hold a series of bilateral meetings involving the Arab countries, U.S.S.R., and U.S.A. before the next round of Middle East peace talks in Geneva. On June 14, the two presidents concluded three days of talks in Cairo. The two countries announced, as part of a sweeping declaration of friendship and cooperation, that the U.S. had agreed to provide Egypt with nuclear technology to be used for peaceful purposes. Mr. Nixon then stopped in Saudi Arabia, where King Faisal warned him that there could not be real peace in the Middle East until all occupied Arab territories had been liberated and the people of Palestine regained their rights and were free to return to their homes.

On June 16, Mr. Nixon and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad announced in Damascus that their countries were resuming diplomatic relations, which had been severed after the Six-Day War in 1967. Both men described the decision as the first step toward lasting peace in the Middle East. Mr. Nixon then went to Israel, where, in an extensive communique, he assured Israel of long-term military and economic assistance from the United States, and indicated that the U.S. would offer Israel some technological aid and a supply of nuclear fuel. In Israel, Mr. Nixon encountered his first protesters, who made reference to the American President's Watergate difficulties.

On June 18, Mr. Nixon concluded his tour in Jordan, where the United States and Jordan agreed to form a joint Jordanian-American commission to review cooperation between the countries on a regular basis.

On June 19, Mr. Nixon, who had been enthusiastically greeted by people and leaders in Arab countries, returned to Washington and said "a profound and lasting change has taken place in that part of the world...where there was no hope for peace there is now hope." As Maxwell Smart would say, "Missed it by that much."

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