Gap Narrows Between Israel, U.S., Egypt on Plan for Interim Canal Settlement

A very small but perceptible narrowing of the gaps between Israel, the United States and Egypt became evident today in the aftermath of Secretary of State William P. Rogers’ talks in Jerusalem and Cairo on the subject of an interim settlement to reopen the Suez Canal. The extreme delicacy of the situation at this stage was reflected by the absence of any concrete information on the substance of Rogers’ meetings with Israeli and Egyptian leaders or Assistant Secretary of State Joseph S. Sisco’s second round of talks with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. (Rogers returned to Washington yesterday and will report to President Nixon today on his Mideast tour. He told newsmen at the airport that "a series of small steps toward a negotiated peace" had been taken.) Foreign Minister Abba Eban said on a television interview last night that a substantial gap still remained between the U.S. and Israeli positions and an even wider gap separated Israel and Egypt. The consensus among observers here was that Israel has yielded slightly on two basic points–the distance it is willing to pull back from the canal in the interests of an interim settlement and the extent to which it would permit Egypt to send personnel into the evacuated zone. Eban refused to assess the chances for an agreement.

Israel reportedly agreed to allow Egyptian "policemen" but not military personnel across the canal although it is aware that soldiers can become "policemen" merely by changing uniforms. Unconfirmed reports from Cairo said Egypt indicated a willingness to send only a "token" military force to the east bank of the canal without artillery and armor. Israel was stated to have said it would pull back from part but not all of the Bar-Lev line, the in-depth fortifications it has built on the cast bank. Confusion was added by a Jerusalem Post report today that Premier Meir had stressed in her talks with Rogers that Israeli troops would continue to man the Bar-Lev line even if Egyptian personnel moved across the canal. According to most reports, concessions offered by Rogers dealt with American guarantees to Israel against possible Egyptian and Soviet violations of an interim agreement. Rogers reportedly backed away from his previous insistence that U.S. guarantees would be valid only in the event of an overall settlement but not for an interim agreement. There was no indication however of what Rogers said the U.S. would do should the Egyptians and Russians break their word and cross the canal by force. Apart from the questions of an Israeli pull-back, Egyptian re-occupation and American guarantees, there remains the fundamental differences between Jerusalem and Cairo over the nature of an interim settlement.

Rogers’ initial talks with Premier Meir last Thursday were reported to have been abrasive. The American diplomat was said to have been sharply critical of Israel’s position while Mrs. Meir refused to budge from her hard line. Reliable sources said a turning point occurred Friday when Defense Minister Moshe Dayan held lengthy talks with Assistant Secretary Sisco. Dayan was said to have offered the concessions on withdrawal and Egyptian canal crossings which broke the deadlock. The Israeli Government was quick to deny that Dayan had presented a memorandum to Rogers. The denial raised eyebrows since no one ever claimed that Dayan presented a memo to anybody. Earlier, the Foreign Ministry issued a written denial that Israel had agreed to an Egyptian military presence on the east bank of the canal. The denial was gratuitous since nobody claimed that Israel made such an agreement. Ministry circles refused to comment when asked if the term "military" in this context also included police. Israel’s Ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, left for Washington today after participating in the talks with Rogers. He said he had no knowledge of any plan that would bring Sisco back to Jerusalem after his talks in Cairo.

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