JERUSALEM (May. 7)
Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger’s surprise trip to Cyprus this morning for a meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko was seen here as an attempt by Kissinger to enlist Soviet aid in breaking the impasse that has developed over Israeli-Syrian disengagement. That view persisted despite protestations by U.S. officials that the Cyprus meeting was asked for by the Russians, that it had been, in fact “in the air” for several days, and that no new U.S. Soviet initiative should be read into it.
Gromyko returned to Moscow after meeting with Kissinger for three hours in Nicosia. Before leaving Gromyko told reporters his talks with the Secretary had been “useful and constructive.” Kissinger also met with Ashraf Marwan, information secretary of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who flew in to Nicosia earlier today. Kissinger returned to Israel this evening and went directly to Jerusalem to meet with Premier Golda Meir and other top Israeli officials. Kissinger declined to make any statement when he arrived at Ben Gurion Airport.
The belief here is that Kissinger reached the conclusion that Soviet help is needed to persuade the Syrians to end their escalation of warfare on the northern front and to relax the absolute intransigence they have demonstrated on disengagement terms since Kissinger’s arrival in the region. As long as the mini-war continues on and around the Golan Heights, disengagement talks will be stalled. When he took off for Nicosia this morning, it was apparent that Kissinger had made no progress on either level.
But observers here were quick to stress that the Secretary was not coming “hat in hand” to his Russian counterpart. They expressed the belief that Kissinger would warn Gromyko that Soviet non-cooperation on the Israeli-Syrian disengagement front could have repercussions on the forthcoming Moscow summit meeting, trade issues and other bilateral matters in which the Soviets are vitally interested. When Kissinger and Gromyko met last week in Geneva both agreed “to exercise their influence towards a positive outcome and to remain in close touch with each other so as to strive to coordinate their efforts for a peaceful settlement in the area (Middle East).”
Kissinger’s visit to Damascus over the weekend is believed here to have been for the most part a failure. He had tried to get a positive Syrian response to Israel’s demands that the shooting stop while negotiations are in progress. But the daily artillery and air battles continued, to Kissinger’s apparent surprise and chagrin.
SYRIA REMAINS INTRANSIGENT
Kissinger is known to have enlisted the aid of both President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and President Houari Boumediene of Algeria to exert their influence in Damascus for a cease-fire–but to no avail. The Syrians, meanwhile, show no willingness to consider the Suez-style disengagement accord that Israel reached successfully with Egypt last Jan. and which it seeks to duplicate on the Syrian front. Israel’s demand for a broad limited forces zone behind the proposed United Nations buffer zone which would keep Golan Heights settlements out of artillery range has been dismissed out of hand by Syrian President Hafez Assad.
Israel maintains that as long as acts of war continue and the Syrians show no willingness to compromise on disengagement terms, it would be premature for Israel to offer territorial concessions. It was widely reported today, nevertheless, that Israeli negotiators have assured Kissinger that they were willing to make some sort of compromise over the town of Kuneitra and even some of the areas surrounding it, provided that the security of Israeli settlements on the Golan Heights was not imperiled. The offer, however, was believed intended to impress Kissinger with Israel’s desire for a disengagement settlement rather than to constitute a serious negotiating approach to Syria at this time.
PESSIMISM OVER KISSINGER’S DIPLOMACY
Highly placed Israeli officials were frankly pessimistic today over the outcome of Kissinger’s current round of diplomacy in the Mideast. But, like Kissinger and members of his entourage, they professed to be convinced that an acceptable disengagement accord will be reached eventually, if only because it is in the interests of both sides. No one can predict whether Soviet influence in Damascus is sufficient to break the present impasse. Observers here believe the next 24 hours will tell the tale. They believe that Kissinger will decide, after his visit to Damascus tomorrow, whether it is worth while to continue his current mission or return to Washington.
What is clear is that a Syrian shift away from intransigence would have to be followed by Israeli territorial concessions. It remains doubtful, however, whether Israeli flexibility on Kuneitra and its environs would satisfy President Assad. This doubt was strengthened in the wake of communiques issued jointly today in Moscow and Syria in which both countries reaffirmed that a lasting peace in the Mideast should be based on Israel’s withdrawal from all Arab lands occupied since the Six-Day War and on ensuring the rights of the Palestinians. This communique was issued as Gromyko left for Nicosia after a three-day visit to Syria.