JERUSALEM (Apr. 18)
Authoritative Israeli sources said today that the announced federation of Egypt, Libya and Syria virtually kills whatever chances there may have been for an interim agreement with Egypt to reopen the Suez Canal. However the sources observed, the federation is not to become effective until Sept. 1 which gives President Anwar Sadat of Egypt ample time to act as if there was no federation. The appraisal of the federation’s affect on an interim agreement was based on the terms of the pact which Sadat disclosed yesterday in Cairo, particularly Egypt’s undertaking not to relinquish an inch of territory occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War and not to hold direct negotiations with Israel. The feeling here is that Egypt has by its own volition bound itself to a much tighter framework than hitherto and has restricted its freedom to enter into a partial arrangement with Israel at this time. The federation pact was signed at Benghazi, Libya in the early hours of Saturday after three days of round-the-clock meetings. The signatories, Sadat, President Muammer el-Qaddafi of Libya and President Hafez al-Assad of Syria pledged to come to each others aid, even if the state needing aid is unable to request it as, for example, in the case of a coup d’etat.
Sudan, which is linked to Egypt and Libya in a cooperative alliance did not join the federation at this time because of “special circumstances,” according to Sadat. It is believed that a strong Communist element in Sudan is resisting adherence to the federation. Plebiscites will be held in Egypt. Libya and Syria Sept. 1 to endorse the federation agreement. Sources here said a further obstacle toward reopening the Suez Canal emerged in Cairo today following a meeting between Soviet Foreign Minister Andre A. Gromyko and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad. Both countries reportedly agreed that the reopening of the waterway could be regarded only as a prelude toward a comprehensive settlement on the basis of the Security Council’s Resolution 242 which, by Arab-Soviet interpretation means that Israel must commit itself in advance to total withdrawal from all occupied territories. Such terms are unacceptable to Israel. Moreover, according to the sources. Israel’s attitude is that the waterway is not vital to its interests and any agreement to reopen it would amount to a concession by Israel to Egypt and the Soviet Union. The Israelis say they are not going to “pay a price” in order to make a concession to their antagonists.
In announcing the tripartite federation, Sadat emphasized that the leaders of Libya and Syria agreed to channel the resources of their countries toward the liberation of all Arab territory held by Israel. Sadat said he agreed “never to yield an inch of Arab territory to Israel, never to negotiate with Israel” and never to bargain on the rights of Palestinian refugees seeking restitution from Israel. The federation, if it materializes, will join 34 million Egyptians with about 6 million Syrians and 1.9 million Libyans in a territory covering 1.1 million square miles. The countries will retain their sovereignty but Sadat said there would be a national assembly for federal legislation, one president, one flag, one an them and one federal capital. Observers here concede that if the federation pact is implemented. Israel would face the prospect of coordinated military action by Egypt and Syria backed up by Libya’s oil wealth. But they recall that similar Arab moves toward federation in the past have come to nought because of insoluable differences between the parties. They recall in particular the short-lived United Arab Republic of the mid-fifties which brought Syria and Egypt into federation under the late Gamal Abdel Nasser.