Israel Denies Receiving Proposals on Reopening of Canal if Troops Withdraw

Government officials said here today that Israel had received no proposals for reopening the Suez Canal contingent upon the withdrawal of Israeli troops from its east bank, either from Dr. Gunnar Jarring, the United Nations peace envoy, or from any other sources. The officials were commenting on a dispatch from Cairo in the New York Times today which said that Egypt was prepared to reopen the Canal and permit Israeli cargoes to pass through the waterway if Israeli troops pulled back “a few dozen kilometers” from the Canal’s east bank. The Times’ correspondent, Eric Pace, attributed the report to ‘diplomatic sources” in Egypt. The Times also quoted an “Israeli official” as saying that Israel’s withdrawal from the canal bank could be brought about only as part of a peace treaty with Egypt.

(Mr. Pace wrote that, according to his informants, the Egyptian offer was “an aspect of the revived Egyptian policy concerning possible elements of a settlement in the Middle East” which was worked out in the last several weeks and communicated privately to Dr. Jarring, to Israel and several other nations.)

Officials here said that as far as Israel had been informed about the Egyptian attitude on the matter, Egypt had been posing conditions for reopening the canal which had nothing to do with the canal itself. These conditions, according to the Israeli officials, had included a “solution of the refugee problem” and the evacuation of the territories occupied by Israel in the June, 1967 Middle East war. Even then, they said, Egypt made only vague promises that the canal might be reopened to Israeli goods but not to ships under the Israel flag. Such a “reopening,” in the Israeli view, would be illegal and discriminatory since ships of all other nations are invited to use the canal without any conditions.

The officials here referred to Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s stand on the Suez issue, which is that Israel is willing to cooperate in reopening the canal to all flags, including its own, without prior conditions and that the questions of refugees and boundaries can be solved only in the context of peace negotiations.

(The London Telegraph reported from Cairo today that the Suez Canal could be reopened in four months despite heavy damage to its navigational installations. The Telegraph believed that President Nasser’s current talks in Moscow could result in a new Egyptian initiative on the canal problem. The paper also referred to unconfirmed reports that a large Soviet dredger has entered the Mediterranean and is headed for Port Said, the Mediterranean entrance to the canal.)

(Mr. Pace suggested in his New York Times’ report that Egyptian concessions on the canal issue could be useful in persuading parts of the world that the failure so far of Dr. Jarring’s peace mission was the result of Israeli rather than Arab intransigence.)

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