JERUSALEM (Aug. 3)
Informed sources said here today that an Israeli reply to proposals by visiting Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco to improve prospects for an interim Israeli-Egyptian agreement to reopen the Suez Canal may be decided on at an unusual late meeting tonight of Premier Golda Meir and her Cabinet and that one of the Sisco proposals is certain to be rejected. Sisco had been reporter earlier today to have urged, in his current round of talks with Israeli leaders, that Israel be more “generous” in its conditions for the sought-for interim pact. Usually well-informed sources said that Sisco had proposed that Israel withdraw its troops to points about 20 miles from the canal east bank and to agree to a token Egyptian force in the vacated area. (In Washington, State Department and Israeli sources refused to confirm this report. See separate story.) Cabinet ministers from all parties participated today in a meeting at which Mrs. Meir briefed them on the Sisco talks. A formal Cabinet meeting scheduled for today was cancelled. The briefing and the cancellation spurred rumors that serious consideration was being given to the visiting diplomat’s reported proposals.
Sisco himself was reported to have told the Israeli leaders that his proposals were “views” which had been “discussed” by the Nixon Administration but that they had not been adopted as a formal policy. In return for Israeli agreement to the suggestions, Sisco was said to have expressed certainty that Egypt would agree to a further extension of the Suez cease-fire which will enter its second year next Saturday. (The Christian Science Monitor reported today from Beirut that Sisco may go to Egypt when he completes his current mission in Israel.) Israeli officials have indicated that the presence of Egyptian technicians on the east bank to operate a reopened canal would be acceptable. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said recently in a television interview that he would not object if such technicians were in military uniform, if their purpose was solely to operate the canal. But Egypt has demanded that its troops must be allowed to occupy all territory evacuated by Israel in any pullback.
Observers said that in this context, which was partly endorsed by Sisco in proposing a token Egyptian military force, the presence of troops as demanded by Egypt would be a political act and not a technical one connected with operation of the reopened canal. Several Cabinet ministers sounded out by newsmen during the day were unanimous in opposing any Egyptian military reoccupation of vacated areas along the canal east bank. They contended that agreement to such an Egyptian military presence would be interpreted both by Egypt and the world at large as a first step toward large-scale Israeli withdrawal without any peace agreement and thus might spark intense pressure on Israel to continue withdrawal. Sisco is scheduled to meet again with Mrs. Meir and other officials tomorrow afternoon. It was speculated that if replies are drafted at the scheduled late meeting tonight, they would be conveyed to him at the meeting tomorrow.