State Dept. Denies Report of Formal Proposal to Egypt on Suez Interim Moves

State Department spokesman Charles Bray denied today that the United States had formally presented Egypt with a proposal for an Israeli withdrawal from approximately half of the Sinai Peninsula, an Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal and the placement of a United Nations force as a buffer between the opposing sides. Answering newsmen’s questions about a column by Joseph Kraft in Sunday’s Washington Post, Bray said: “Mr. Bergus presented no U.S. government or Israeli proposal on the substance of an interim agreement on the Suez Canal to the UAR.” The role that both parties had asked the U.S. to play, he added, was to help “reconcile their differences.” Bray said Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin has been in touch with Assistant Secretary of State Joseph J. Sisco and that no misunderstanding exists between the parties at this time.

A senior State Department official said Bergus had handed the Egyptians his own personal suggestions in an informal memo that was, and is, without official U.S. government standing. Despite previous statements by U.S. officials that American proposals have been made to both sides, the State Department aide said the Israeli government had no knowledge of the informal piece of paper Bergus left with Egyptian leaders. The Cairo government, the State Department official added, Knows that Bergus’ memo has no official status; but be could not say if that had been made clear to the Egyptians from the start. According to Kraft, a political columnist, Bergus left his “phantom memo” with the Egyptians on May 23, then on June 3 suggested to Mohammed Hassanem Heikal, the influential editor of the authoritative Cairo newspaper Al Ahram, that a formal reply be forthcoming. Kraft added that on June 4, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad delivered an Egyptian reply, and that on June 6 Bergus transmitted that reply to Secretary of State William P. Rogere in Paris. State Department officials would neither confirm nor deny Kraft’s time sequence. One of them added that Bergus, who is due to return to Cairo, is ” a highly respected, experienced diplomat.”

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