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Behind the Headlines Geneva Conference is Not Dead

The periodic bouts of Kissingerian virtuoso diplomacy in the Mideast–the next round is scheduled for Damascus and Jerusalem next week–have caused many people to wonder about the fate of the Geneva conference which opened so splendidly in Dec. and has not reconvened since.

Obviously, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger enjoys and prefers his subsequent lone role of peace-maker, shuttling from capital to capital, and inviting Mideastern statesmen to Washington–without the Soviet Union being able to scrutinize his every move. For this same reason, Israel (and perhaps Egypt too?) have felt eminently comfortable with the Secretary’s efforts.

Even the Russians had not, until Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid I. Brezhnev’s Moscow speech last week during the visit of Syrian President Hafez Assad, complained about the American-oriented diplomacy or demanded that the focus of attention shift back to the Palais de Nations in Geneva where the peace talks were held last year. Even now that Brezhnev has openly complained and openly made this demand–Kissinger has pointedly announced that he is coming to the region for a further round, with the Israelis and the Syrians obviously having agreed to this.

BASIS FOR RESUMPTION OF GENEVA TALKS

But to infer from all this that Geneva is dead would be quite wrong. It is very much alive–but in a sort of suspended animation for the interim. In fact, the ongoing talks under the Secretary in Washington and in the region have been described by a senior Israeli minister as part of the Geneva conference which, in effect, is not a geographically limited term but rather a framework for negotiation which began at Geneva and will doubtless still return to Geneva.

It is certainly expected in Jerusalem that when and if disengagement with Syria is achieved, the Mideast protagonists and their superpower patrons will return to Geneva to begin talks on the various complex problems of a permanent peace settlement in the Mideast. “Think tanks” of government officials and academic experts are continuing here with their preparations for those talks drafting plans and papers on the whole range of items expected to come up.

To see the current disengagement talks in the perspective of Geneva the following description could be used: the disengagement talks could not have taken place without having been preceded by Geneva, and at the same time, the talks will facilitate the continuation of the Geneva conference. Successful disengagement on both fronts will lead Syria to join with Egypt and Israel at the Palais de Nations to begin talks on overall peace. Conversely, without disengagement in the north, Syria will continue to refuse to attend the Geneva conference (as it boycotted the opening session) and Egypt, too, will be unable to proceed further along the road to negotiations without Syria.

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