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Israelis Optimistic Disengagement Accord with Egypt is Within Reach

Well placed Israeli sources are optimistic that a disengagement agreement with Egypt is within reach despite many difficulties that remain to be resolved, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned today. That view was indicated after eight hours of meetings between Israeli officials and U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and his aides who have been shuttling between Jerusalem and President Anwar Sadat’s Aswan residence for the past two days in an intensive effort to narrow the gap between the two parties. State Department spokesman George Vest, a member of Kissinger’s entourage, described today’s talks as a “very detailed discussion which has moved to a more concrete phase.” He did not elaborate.

Kissinger returned from his latest round in Egypt late last night and conferred with Foreign Minister Abba Eban until the early hours of this morning. Later this morning he conferred again with Eban, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff David Elazar and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Simcha Dinitz. He attended a working lunch with the Foreign Ministry staff at Eban’s residence. Kissinger also paid a visit to Premier Golda Meir who is still confined to bed with a viral infection. She is being kept informed of all developments. Kissinger and his party will return to Egypt tomorrow instead of tonight as originally planned. There was no indication here how long his Aswan-Jerusalem trips would continue but it appeared that Kissinger is determined not to leave the area before the two parties reach an agreement. Vest disclosed that Kissinger is in regular telegraphic contact with President Nixon but refused to comment on reports that Nixon had instructed him to remain in the Middle East until an agreement is reached.

Yesterday’s United Nations announcement in Cairo that the Israeli-Egyptian military disengagement talks in Geneva would not resume until Jan. 25 indicated that at least 10 more days have been allotted to Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy.” Kissinger returned to Jerusalem from Aswan last night with what were described as maps and other documents detailing Egypt’s views on disengagement. These were Sadat’s response to the detailed Israeli proposals conveyed to him yesterday by Kissinger. The Cabinet convened in special session late tonight at Mrs. Meir’s home to draft Israel’s response to the latest Egyptian proposals. Officials were tight-lipped about the meeting.

The talks here have been conducted under a heavy veil of secrecy and it is not known in what ways or to what extent the Egyptian disengagement proposals differ from those of Israel. One source indicated that the differences lie in the timetable for carrying out the various phases of disengagement. They are said to revolve around the question of whether an Israeli withdrawal from the Suez Canal should precede or follow an Egyptian commitment to thin out its forces on the east bank of the canal or an Egyptian pledge not to renew hostilities and maintain a true cease-fire. Israel has insisted that its withdrawal be accompanied by a reduction of Egyptian armaments along the canal. The Egyptians apparently demand an Israeli first move. But informed sources here believe the Egyptians may be prepared eventually for some kind of mutual disengagement although they will not sign a written undertaking to that effect. The sources pointed out that Egypt lifted the blockade of the straits of Bab el Mandeb in that manner. The blockade was removed although it was not specifically mentioned in the six-point Israeli-Egyptian cease-fire agreement signed last Nov. 11.

Israeli sources said there was no cause for concern over Egypt’s refusal to accept the Israeli plan presented to them by Kissinger. As one official put it. “They were not necessarily expected to. The Israeli plan was intended to serve mainly as a basis for discussion and it certainly served this purpose.” Meanwhile a joint Israeli-American working group was scheduled to meet this evening to discuss “details of various elements of arrangements to be set up.”according to State Department spokesman Vest. The arrangements were believed to deal with patrolling and inspection of the disengagement process. That group is to report later tonight to a larger joint working group headed by Kissinger and Eban. U.S. officials expected the large group to work late into the night and continue their work tomorrow morning. Kissinger was expected to fly back to Aswan before noon tomorrow.

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