JERUSALEM (Feb. 2)
Israel announced today that it is ready to participate in proximity talks with Egypt for an interim agreement to reopen the Suez Canal and has so informed the US government. The announcement followed a special Cabinet meeting at which Foreign Minister Abba Eban reported on the talks that have been going on in Washington during the past month to clarify the role the US intends to play in the negotiating process.
According to today’s communique, the talks will be free and the US will endeavor to bring both sides to an agreement without itself becoming a party. Reliable sources here said that if and when the proximity talks materialize, the US will not advance suggestions of its own without prior consultation with Israel.
The sources said, however, that the US has not undertaken to refrain from raising any point without Israel’s prior agreement but would make a serious effort to reach an agreement with Israel before substantive proposals on any subject are broached. The sources noted that the US position did not quite come up to Israeli expectations but that Israel was nevertheless satisfied.
UP TO U.S. TO CONVENE TALKS
Israel on its part has expressed readiness to make a partial withdrawal from the east bank of the Suez Canal within the framework of an interim agreement with Egypt. This includes withdrawal behind the line of fortifications known as the Barlev line. The depth of the withdrawal has not been disclosed. A major condition for the Israeli withdrawal is that no Egyptian troops be allowed to enter the evacuated zone. The precise nature of the force that will be stationed there is a matter to be decided at the talks themselves.
Sources here said it was now up to the US to bring Israel and Egypt together for the talks. The expectation here is that no action will be taken before President Anwar Sadat of Egypt returns from Moscow where he arrived today. Egypt’s position is unclear and must be probed now that the obstacles between Israel and the US have been removed, according to sources.
Today’s announcement broke a deadlock that ensued last Oct. after Secretary of State William P. Rogers announced his six “parameters” for an Israel-Egyptian accord in a speech before the UN General Assembly. Israel objected specifically to Rogers’ contention that there was room for compromise on the question of Egyptian troops occupying the zone evacuated by Israeli forces under the terms of an interim Suez agreement.
Israel also refused to accept Rogers’ view that an interim accord is a first phase of a total Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai and his support of the Egyptian position for a time limit on the cease-fire agreement. Following Rogers’ speech, Israel announced that it was withdrawing its earlier agreement to participate in talks with Egypt on an interim agreement. Israel also asked the US for a clarification of its position in light of Rogers’ speech.