Canal Can Be Reopened for Dredging Without Accord Between Israel Egypt

Diplomatic circles said today that Israel has always maintained that the Suez Canal could be reopened for dredging and repairs without any specific agreement between Israel and Egypt. The circles were commenting on foreign press reports that Israel has taken such a stand. Premier Golda Meir told the Knesset last month that “the canal could be opened without an Israeli withdrawal” from its east bank.

(In Washington today State Department spokesman Charles Bray acknowledged that Mrs. Meir had made such remarks but said they “reflect the views of the Israeli government and have not been communicated to us officially.”)

Other sources said such a possibility may have been mentioned by Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin in summing up conditions for a Suez agreement in talks with US officials.

The Israeli circles noted that the canal was closed by Egypt and that Israel had no objections if the Egyptians decided to dredge the waterway and repair it for use by shipping. They said Israel was willing to let Egyptian engineers and technicians cross the canal to begin the work though it would not permit Egyptian soldiers. However, they added, Egypt has rejected all such proposals in the past and was not expected to agree at this time. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt has stated that the withdrawal of Israeli forces was more important than reopening the waterway.

(The Nixon administration is preparing a reply to Israel’s reported refusal to resume negotiations for an interim Suez agreement unless the US resumes deliveries of Phantom jets, it was reported in Washington today. Sources said the reply would reflect the administration’s position that it would be difficult to resume deliveries in face of what it considers a balanced military picture and a reduction of Soviet arms aid to Egypt. Sources said the US reply would deal also with other issues including Mrs. Meir’s fear that President Nixon might negotiate a Mideast deal bilaterally with the Russians when he visits Moscow next May.)

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