Israel Still Awaiting U.S. Clarification on Interim Accord

The Cabinet met only briefly today and Premier Golda Meir reported on the recent conversations of Foreign Minister Abba Eban with Secretary of State William P. Rogers and United Nations mediator Gunnar V. Jarring. She also briefed the Cabinet on Friday’s talk between Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joseph J. Sisco. Mrs. Meir’s statement was not discussed by the Cabinet. A full scale discussion of foreign policy matters is expected when Foreign Minister Abba Eban returns from the US.

Israel is still waiting for a clarification of the American position with regard to an interim agreement to reopen the Suez Canal, according to informed sources here. Premier Meir’s recent visit to Washington apparently did not elicit clarification nor, it appears, was the matter made any clearer in Rogers’ telephone call to Eban in New York last week. Rogers also telephoned Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad.

Israel has been seeking clarification of the US stand ever since Rogers’ Oct. 4 speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he outlined six points described by him as “parameters” for discussions between Israel and Egypt over an interim settlement. One point that Rogers made, which was especially alarming to Israel, was that a compromise was possible on the issue of an Egyptian troop crossing of the Suez Canal after Israeli forces pulled back from the east bank. Rogers also indicated that the US would be satisfied with a time limit on the cease-fire while Israel insists on an unlimited one.

PHANTOM ISSUE PLAYED DOWN

Israel is also uncertain how the US stands on Egypt’s demand that an Israeli pull-back from the Suez Canal must be the first step toward a phased withdrawal from all of the Sinai. It is understood here that Israel’s main concern is whether Rogers’ six points represented a position which the US would introduce at some point in Egyptian-Israeli talks or whether they were merely a general statement of views which, once stated, would not come up again as the US resumed its role of mediator.

Rogers’ phone call to Eban, which State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey disclosed last Friday, did not appear to contain anything new on the subject, although this too is not clear, Israeli sources said today. The conversation was described here as having been in “a constructive spirit.” (McCloskey said the phone calls to Eban and Riad concerned the matter of an interim agreement but that beyond reestablishing and maintaining contact with the parties, “nothing is in motion so far.” The State Department official added, however, that there will be “follow-ups” in “the next little while” by Assistant Secretary of State Sisco.)

Another matter still unclear, at least to the Israeli public, is the status of Israel’s longstanding request for more US Phantom jets. Cabinet ministers have apparently decided to play down the Phantoms question which was a burning issue here before Mrs. Meir’s trip to Washington, and received much attention and much comment by Cabinet members and other public figures. Since Mrs. Meir’s return the word appears to be to evade questions on the subject and adopt an attitude of “diplomatic silence,” a position that is sometimes taken to allow the other side to fulfill delicate promises outside the glare of public scrutiny.

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