GENEVA (Dec. 20)
The Geneva peace conference which is due to open formally tomorrow morning at 10:30 is already in full swing. By this evening all the five participating foreign ministers and the United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim arrived to attend the Arab-Israeli peace talks. Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who landed in Geneva this morning aboard a special El Al flight, said that “Israel had come to seek peace with honor and to offer peace with honor to our neighbors.”
Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko who arrived here yesterday afternoon appealed to all participants to “Show a sense of realism and good will” while the Egyptian Minister, Ismail Fahmi, who also arrived yesterday, said that this country seeks “a durable peace” In spite of Fahmi’s warning that Egypt will seek “total Israeli withdrawal” from the occupied Arab territories and press for “the restoration of the Palestinian national rights,” the conference is opening in a relatively optimistic mood. United Nations officials and participating diplomats are still engaged in last minute discussions on the technical detalls but they all believe that by tomorrow morning, everything will be settled and the conference will be in full swing.
Israeli circles here said that they do not expect Egypt to raise the issue of the disengagement of forces on the Suez Canal during this preliminary phase. They said that this issue could be discussed, however, early next month-even before the conference formally reconvenes. These circles also said that there is no chance whatsoever for the Palestinians to join the talks at a later stage. They said that the Israeli delegation in its role of one of “the founding fathers” of the peace conference feels that it will have the right to oppose their joining. Ebammet this evening with Waldheim to iron out the last technical details concerning tomorrow’s talks. It is understood, following this meeting, that the conference will have three official languages, English, Russian and French. It will be presided first by Waldheim-tomorrow morning-and then at the following sessions by the two co-chairmen in alphabetic order: Gromyko and U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. The three participating countries will also speak in alphabetic order after the co-sponsors: Egypt, Israel and Jordan.
According to current arrangements, the delegates will meet in the United Nations “Council Chamber” sitting at six tables drawn up to form a hexagonal shape-somewhat like a star. There will be a 15-inch separation between each table-apparently as a concession to the Egyptians-and three rows of three chairs behind each table, enabling each participant to field nine delegates. Experts from all the countries will sit in a circle surrounding the central table. Some 140 newsmen, out of a total of nearly 1500 from all over the world, will be able to watch at least part of the proceedings from the press gallery. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent will be among them.
Israeli sources here say that Eban is expected to speak at tomorrow’s session for 1-1/2 hours. He is expected to stress the importance of the historical moment which the conference represents, review Israel’s past relations with the Arab states and describe what these relations should be and could be. He is also expected to stress Israel’s security needs and the fact that under no circumstances can the borders of June 1967 be restored as they would be an invitation to renewed war. At the same time he would let it be clearly known that Israel is prepared to discuss “everything” and is prepared to show itself “flexible” in its demands.
From the various declarations made here by Fahmi and Chief Egyptian spokesman Tahsin Bachir, the Egyptians’ probable stand has become known. The two, briefed Egyptian newsmen attending the conference last night and this morning. They made it clear that they want implementation of the cease-fire which they described as “fragile and incomplete,” and to secure the participation of the Syrian and Palestinian delegations at a later phase of the talks, either in Jan., when the conference will resume, or in Feb.
The two made it clear that the Egyptian delegation has set no time limit to the talks and that they are prepared to continue for as long as necessary to arrive at a workable arrangement and “durable” peace. The two also told the Egyptian press that the disengagement of the Third Egyptian Army, surrounded by Israeli forces on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, is not an “urgent matter and will be settled in due time.” The Soviet delegates are also leaking out reports indicating that though the Soviet Union still continues “to back the just Arab cause,” Gromyko will do his best to press the Arabs to accept “reasonable” compromise solutions. Veteran United Nations officials stress that contrary to other diplomatic confrontations in the past, the results of this consultation will not be measured in increased influence or extra territories but in the clear cut verdict of either war or peace.