In Geneva: Initial Optimism Replaced by Pessimism and Despondency

In spite of the postponement of the Geneva conference, the various delegations and United Nations officials are readying themselves for the meeting between Arabs and Israelis now scheduled for Dec. 21. A thick red carpet has already been laid along the corridors leading to the “council chamber” where the delegates are due to meet should the conference finally open in spite of the last minute difficulties. The initial optimism which reigned here in conference circles has been replaced with a certain pessimism and despondency. Many observers now doubt whether the meeting will open on Dec. 21 as scheduled and even if it does whether much can be accomplished with a weekend and Christmas just around the corner from the opening date.

Both the United Nations and the Swiss authorities live in fear of a possible terrorist attack. Special UN security guards have been flown to Geneva from New York, and the Swiss government plans to mobilize a regiment of paratroopers to guard the UN building and the routes leading to and from the airport. Hundreds of police will guard the hotels where the delegates will stay. The Israeli delegation, which already numbers nearly 100 people including administrative staff, has taken over an entire hotel in the center of the city. The heads of the delegation, including Foreign Minister Abba Eban himself, will be staying at a hotel some 10 miles from the city.

The Israelis have set up a special press center and even a special map reproducing workshop to be able to issue maps and other documentation should this discussion center on the disengagement of forces in the Suez Canal zone. The American delegation has booked some 120 rooms at the Intercontinental Hotel just across the way from UN headquarters. Both the Americans and the Swiss fear that an attempt against Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger might be made and unprecedented security measures have been taken around the building.

The Egyptians are staying one floor lower. Fewer in number–about 40 people are reportedly already in town–they include a large number of international law experts. One of the top men in the delegation is the former Egyptian Ambassador in Paris, Ibrahim el Eirun, known as Egypt’s foremost authority on international law. These appointments tend to support the belief that Egypt plans to put the forthcoming discussion on a legal basis–namely, to approach the whole issue of the Middle East conflict from the juridical angle: United Nations resolutions, Security Council rulings and cease-fire agreements. The United Nations Secretariat has also brought to Geneva a number of legal experts normally stationed in New York to interpret UN resolutions.

Syrians and Jordanians have not yet arrived here and spokesmen for their permanent delegations say that no definite date or plans have yet been fixed. A Syrian spokesman said here today, “We have not yet been told by Damascus that the conference will take place or that Syria will participate.” The Jordanians, plagued by the problem of “Palestinian representation,” are just as vague. Only the Egyptians are here and claim to be ready to start the talks “as soon as all the participants arrive.” Few of these are expected, however, before the end of the week. UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim has indefinitely postponed his departure and the Soviet delegation here announced today that. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko has also cancelled his arrival for the time being. In spite of the Egyptian official optimism, it is not known when Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi will reach the city.

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