JERUSALEM (Feb. 10)
The Cabinet heard today from Foreign Minister Abba Eban that the U.S. State Department had informed Israel that the Soviet Union would exercise its influence upon Syria to persuade it to produce the POW list and allow Red Cross visits to the Israeli prisoners. In a rare move which raised eyebrows among observers here, the Cabinet published this information in its official communique.
Cabinet Secretary Michael Arnon said that the ministers had not discussed any substantive disengagement ideas–because the time was not yet ripe to do so since Syria had still not complied with Israel’s preconditions. He said that the Cabinet had in fact never held a substantive discussion–but of course it would do so when the time came. Arnon referred back to Wednesday’s official statement denying that any erosion or softening had taken place in Israel’s position of demanding POW lists and visits before disengagement talks.
BOTH DEMANDS MUST BE SATISFIED
Well placed sources here say that all eyes are now on the planned Arab mini-summit set for this week and on the conference of oil producers to follow. No real progress on disengagement will come in advance of these crucial inter-Arab deliberations, these sources believe. They acknowledge reports from the U.S. that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger has been attempting to find various ways around the POW obstacle. Among the proferred solutions, as reported in the local and foreign press, was one seeking to separate the POW list demand from the demand for Red Cross visits. But Israel remains firm that it will submit no plan of its own–to Syria or the U.S.–before both demands are satisfied.
Solutions which seem to offer more hope of success center on the idea of a very small time lag between the visits of the Red Cross and the beginning of disengagement talks. A few hours or a day at the most have been suggested as a suitably diminutive time lag to satisfy Syria’s demand that the POW question be seen as part of disengagement talks. Syria has so far not responded positively to this idea–but Kissinger is reportedly still hopeful and, therefore, sources here remain hopeful, too. (By David Landau)