Talks Due to Go on Even with Syria’s Decision Not to Attend

Israeli official circles said here today that the Syrian decision not to attend the Geneva peace talks will not effect Israel’s own presence. These circles said that Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban will probably arrive in Geneva Thursday and will attend the talks Friday morning if the Egyptian delegation shows up. The Israelis said, however, that Israel had still not received this afternoon the official invitation to attend the talks though they expect UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim to hand it over later tonight to the Israeli delegation in New York. (See separate UN story.)

The Egyptian delegation here said that under current plans Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi is expected here tomorrow. The Egyptians said that unless a last minute change occurs they expect to attend the talks Friday morning as planned. Waldheim and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko are also expected here tomorrow. U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger is due Thursday evening and that same night he is scheduled to dine with Gromyko to iron out last minute difficulties.

American sources say that should the conference take place, which some doubt now after Syria’s refusal to attend the talks, Kissinger may meet Fahmi late Thursday night and have a working breakfast with Eban Friday morning before the official opening. Egyptian officials here privately express confidence that the conference will open as planned and that after its one day official session will be continued at the level of experts. The main issue they would like to discuss is the disengagement of forces on the Suez Canal. Some Egyptians say that Kissinger has given them assurances that an agreement on this issue will be reached before the end of the month enabling them to disengage their Third Army.

Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, will reportedly be devoted to generalities. Immediately after this ceremonial opening, the conference will suspend its activities and resume them only mid-January after the Israeli elections and the formation of a new government. In the interim, non-official representatives of the four delegations will probably continue to meet to work on technical arrangements and reach agreement on the conference machinery. It is generally believed that three main sub-commissions will be set up to examine the “consistency” of peace: the implementation of Resolution 242 and the disengagement of Israeli and Egyptian forces in the Canal zone.

Even before starting, however, the conference has had positive effects. For the first time in the tormented history of the Middle East, Israelis and Arabs have met face to face and discussed and sometimes even professionally cooperated. The protagonists are not official delegates but the dozens of Israeli and Arab newsmen already in Geneva. For the first time, Arab and Israeli newsmen share the same tables in the press room cafeteria and exchange information and comments. An Egyptian reporter told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent “things have definitely changed. It is logical that if our official delegates will meet in a few days, reporters can do so also.” Personal relations and even personal affinities have rapidly developed among the Israeli and Arab press corps and have helped to drastically alter the mutual fears and suspicions. But a big shadow still looms over the conference and officials fear that till the last moment a hitch could develop wrecking the first serious attempt yet made to bring a solution to the passions, hatreds and fears accumulated in the Middle East for 25 years.

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