JERUSALEM (Feb. 28)
The time, place and format of Israel-Syrian disengagement talks may be decided this weekend by the parties and by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger; well-placed sources here said today. The Secretary is due in Tel Aviv tomorrow for a five-hour stop-over to confer with Premier Golda Meir and ministers and receive Israel’s “ideas” on disengagement.
By the time of the meeting at around noon, the Israeli POWs in Syria should have been visited by the Red Cross under the timetable meticulously worked out by Kissinger to satisfy the demands of both parties–Syria’s demand that the lists-and-visits issue be settled as part of the disengagement talks, and Israel’s insistence that it would not talk disengagement until the lists-and-visits question had been settled.
The Cabinet met today in secret session as the “Ministerial Security Committee” to hear from Mrs. Meir. Foreign Minister Abba Eban, and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan on the talks yesterday with Kissinger. Sources said the discussion was of “general ideas,” which will be presented tomorrow to Kissinger. The Cabinet is to reconvene Sunday–presumably having been apprised by Kissinger of Syria’s initial reaction to the “ideas”–to work out more detailed guide- lines for the Israeli negotiators.
THREE CENTRAL ISSUES INVOLVED
The question of “logistics” hinges on Syria’s insistence that Egypt play a major role in the disengagement talks. Syria has suggested an extension of the Israel-Egypt military working group at Geneva, with Syrian officers also taking part. A Geneva site would also give the Soviet Union scope for influence. Israel does not reject totally Egyptian participation–but it will insist that Syria do its own negotiation and sign itself for any accords reached. Israel prefers a front-line site on the pattern of Kilometer 101 under United Nations auspices–thus precluding Soviet participation.
The talks themselves will probably be long and arduous, observers here believe. They point to three central issues: The first is territorial demands. Syria wants a slice of the pre-1973 Golan now, as part of disengagement, the slice to include the town of Kuneitra. Israel maintains that the disengagement must be effected only within the areas newly occupied in the October war. Israel is ready to cede all these areas: some back to Syria, some for a UN buffer zone.
The second is linkage. Syria demands that the disengagement accord be expressly linked to a final settlement involving total Israeli withdrawal from all occupied areas. Syria announced last night that Kissinger had promised Syrian President Hafez Assad that disengagement would be the first step toward total Israeli withdrawal. The third is exchange of POWs. Israel wants this to have a top priority in the talks, with exchanges beginning before the talks are necessarily concluded. Syria has demanded the return of 15,000 peasants to the newly occupied areas–and wants priority for this issue.
Well placed Israeli sources stressed today that yesterday’s talks with Kissinger were very general and hardly “substantive.” Maps had been used–but only to illustrate where Israel’s settlements were, the sources said. U.S. officials with Kissinger had suggested last night that the talks had indeed been “substantive.” This was seen here as an effort to satisfy Syrian insistence that the POW list-visit issue be seen as part of the disengagement talks. The White House statement yesterday which referred to Israel presenting its “ideas” not before tomorrow was seen as a move to satisfy Israel’s demand that substantive talks could only come after the list-visits question was settled.
The pace of Middle East diplomatic activity was increased when Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko arrived unexpectedly in Damascus yesterday for meetings with Syrian leaders shortly after Kissinger left. Gromyko will go to Cairo tomorrow when Kissinger is due back in Jerusalem. Gromyko’s visit to the two Arab capitals is seen as a move by Moscow to make sure that Soviet interests are not frozen out or overshadowed by Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy” that has proved successful so far.