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Israelis Are Guardedly Optimistic Regarding Agreement in Principle by Sadat

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Israeli officials displayed guarded optimism today as they awaited the return of U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger from Aswan with what they hoped would be an agreement in principle by President Anwar Sadat to a detailed disengagement plan hammered out here over the weekend. The plan was described as a concretization of Israel’s ideas on disengagement which Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had first discussed with Secretary Kissinger in Washington ten days ago. Kissinger is expected back here tonight with Sadat’s reply. The Egyptian leader is expected to balk at some details but Israeli officials are confident that the remaining differences can be resolved, either by Kissinger or one of his aides returning to Cairo or through further direct negotiations between the protagonists in Geneva.

(Kissinger met for three and a half hours with President Sadat in Aswan today after which it was announced that Egypt and the U.S. had set up working groups to discuss details of a disengagement plan. The Secretary was due to fly back to Jerusalem tonight and was expected back in Aswan tomorrow night, according to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy. Fahmy reportedly told reporters in Cairo today that the Israeli proposals conveyed to Egypt by Kissinger were unsatisfactory. He said Kissinger was returning to Jerusalem with an Egyptian map and other documents which constitute a proposal for disengagement. He explained, however, that this did not mean the Israeli plan had been rejected and should not be regarded as a counter-proposal.)

A Cabinet source revealed today that the plan which the Israel government yesterday authorized Kissinger to convey to Sadat did not go beyond the ideas outlined by Dayan to Kissinger. Their crystallization in the form of detailed maps and military documents was accomplished by U.S. and Israeli working teams meeting together and separately through Saturday night and yesterday morning. Although the maps bore the imprint of Israel’s two top military men–Dayan and Chief of Staff Gen. David Elazar–concern was expressed in some quarters that Israel was making too many concessions. The Prime Minister’s Office today officially denied a report published in the New York Times which alleged that Israel had conceded to Egypt the right to maintain heavy armed forces on the east bank of the Suez Canal after disengagement. The Prime Minister’s Office said that report was “quite unfounded.”

Cabinet sources said Kissinger had not pressured Israel into any concessions if only because he realized that Israel’s disengagement offer was constructive and as generous as possible under the circumstances. Nevertheless, the Likud opposition party pointedly reminded the government today that it was only a care-taker regime and warned it not to commit itself to any fateful decisions. A statement issued by the Likud Executive demanded that the government submit the entire matter to the new Knesset which takes office Jan. 21 before making commitments. While government sources concede that the Israeli plan offers some concessions they insist that it demands sufficient quid pro quo from Egypt to demonstrate that country’s good faith and peaceful intentions.

They revealed, however, that one thorny problem remains open–the extent of Egypt’s reduction of forces on the east bank of the waterway. Sources said the Israeli plan called for a pull-back of its forces to positions just west of the Mitla and Gidi passes if Egypt thins out its own forces and prepares in earnest to reopen the Suez Canal to navigation and rehabilitate the deserted canal-side towns and villages so that their civilian populations could return. One Israeli source said that Israel would agree to keep its own heavy armor east of the Mitla pass so that its new forward positions would be guarded only by infantry, provided that Egypt undertakes a substantial reduction of its forces east of the canal.

For Israel, disengagement is above all a test of Egypt’s sincerity, officials here said. If Egypt violates an agreement, it will be a lesson for Israel to be mire wary in the future of negotiations with Cairo. If, on the other hand, the Egyptians begin to dredge the canal and restore civilian normalcy on the canal banks, Israel’s fears and suspicions of Egyptian intentions would be substantially allayed. The so-called “linkage problem” is not expected to cause trouble. Israel is said to be prepared to declare that disengagement is the first step in negotiations for an overall peace settlement and to acknowledge that the disengagement lines are not a final boundary. Egypt on its part will have to pledge to desist from further hostilities. U.S. sources who saw the final draft said they were “hopeful” of a successful conclusion.

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