Henry A. Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy” entered a new round today as the U.S. Secretary of State flew back to Egypt after a day and two nights of intensive discussions with Israeli leaders. While Kissinger exuded optimism over the prospects for an Israeli-Egyptian agreement on disengagement of forces and stressed repeatedly, both here and at Aswan, that the gap between the two sides has been substantially narrowed, there were hints today that he was considering the possibility that no final agreement will be reached before he leaves the Middle East.
In that case, the unresolved issues would revert to Geneva where the Israeli and Egyptian military teams negotiating disengagement are scheduled to resume their meetings Jan. 25. But the prospects for an agreement then would be greatly enhanced as a result of the narrowing of differences achieved by Kissinger, his aides maintained. They expressed confidence that the progress made so far would not be lost in transferring the negotiations back to Geneva.
Highly placed government sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that if Kissinger can bring Egypt to agree to an acceptable formula, Israel would be justified in taking the calculated risk involved in pulling back its troops from both banks of the Suez Canal to positions some 30 kilometers behind the present lines. The sources said that the fact that Egypt was prepared to continue the disengagement talks with Israel was itself encouraging.
Political sources here disclosed today that when the Geneva talks adjourned they had reached an impasse. What the Geneva talks had achieved did not go beyond agreement on a number of “principles of disengagement,” but the effects of Kissinger’s personal mediation efforts this week has been, in the American view, to move the disengagement negotiations from principles to substance, the sources said.
(Kissinger, arriving in Aswan this afternoon for further talks with President Anwar Sadat, said “the gap is narrowing” in his efforts to achieve a disengagement agreement. In Moscow today, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko re-affirmed Russian support for Egypt and the Arab cause in the Mideast. In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy said he would be visiting Moscow as soon as Kissinger leaves Egypt.)
TALKS ARE VERY DIFFICULT
The Cabinet, which met for 90 minutes last night at the home of ailing Premier Golda Meir, issued no statement on the progress of the disengagement negotiations. The Cabinet reportedly will make no decisions until Kissinger returns from Egypt, probably tomorrow, and reports Sadat’s response to Israel’s latest proposals.
When he left Ben Gurion (Lod). Airport for Egypt at noon today, Kissinger had praise for the serious manner both Israelis and Egyptians were conducting the negotiations. But he admitted that the talks were very difficult. “As you know, we had very long, very detailed and very constructive talks,” he told reporters. “This reflects two things–the difficulty of the subject and the fact that we are making good progress.” He added: “I hope that when I return here the remaining differences will have been narrowed even more and that in the course of my stay they can be substantially eliminated.”
The focus of Kissinger’s talks here yesterday is understood to have been on the complex question of security guarantees, inspection and enforcement of those parts of a disengagement agreement calling for a reduction of Egyptian forces and fire power on the east bank of the Suez Canal. One idea under discussion reportedly, is for Egypt to give a firm undertaking to the United States–and to the Soviet Union as well as a cosponsor of the Geneva conference–to adhere to the provisions of the agreement.
Egypt, it was learned, has so far refused to give any pledges to Israel either to reduce its forces or to reopen the Suez Canal and rehabilitate the canal-side towns so that their civilian populations can return. President Sadat reportedly argues that Egypt is free to act as it pleases on its own territory without having to make any undertakings to Israel.
Premier Meir is scheduled to make a political statement to the Knesset when it convenes next Monday. Israel is expected to insist on a direct Egyptian undertaking to reduce its forces and armaments on the east side of the canal and to refrain from active hostilities. Such a declaration is considered of utmost importance to Israel in view of continuing Egyptian cease-fire violations which Israel sees as a deliberate provocation by the Egyptian high command to “heat up” the front while disengagement talks go on. (By David Landau and Yitzhak Shargil)