PARIS (Dec. 27)
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency here learned over the weekend that President Georges Pompidou has agreed to meet with Israeli Ambassador Asher Ben Natan to try to break the deadlock in Franco-Israeli negotiations over the reimbursement for 50 embargoed Mirage jets. The meeting will be held during the first week of Jan, at the Elysee Palace, according to the JTA report, which appeared here yesterday and confirmed today by the French newspaper, Le Monde.
According to JTA’s sources, Pompidou was disturbed when he learned recently that the negotiations were stalled and decided to take matters into his own hands so as not to further sour France-Israeli relations. A French official told the JTA that in Pompidou’s view the negotiations were intended to settle differences still outstanding between the two countries rather than to exacerbate them. Le Monde, which quoted the JTA report at length, said Pompidou and Ben Natan would discuss the overall implications of France-Israeli relations at their meeting.
POMPIDOU SURPRISED AT LACK OF PROGRESS
Negotiations between Israel and France to settle the Mirage issue began several months ago and were confirmed in Jerusalem and Paris last Oct. The 50 supersonic jets, bought and paid for by Israel, were embargoed by the late President Charles de Gaulle during the Six-Day War. The embargo was continued by the Pompidou regime, but Israel, which had originally insisted on the planes, subsequently agreed to accept re-imbursement.
The way to an agreement was cleared when France announced that its Air Force would absorb the planes, thereby allaying Israeli fears that they would be sold to a third party for possible use against Israel. A stumbling block developed over the financial arrangements. Israel reportedly insists on re-imbursement for the aircrafts’ cost plus interest. The French government reportedly made counter-demands for payment for storage and maintenance of the Mirages.
French sources said Pompidou was surprised to learn that no progress had been made toward a settlement and recently called for the Mirage file and details of the meetings which he studied before deciding to meet with Ben Natan. The later, and Paul Kedar, a representative of Israel’s Defense Ministry, had been negotiating with Secretary General Herve Alphand of the French Foreign Office and Gen. De L’Etoile, head of the French interministerial committee for arms sales.