Kissinger’s Earlier Optimism About Disengagement Appears to Be Waning

Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger returned here tonight after a five-hour meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus today apparently less optimistic about a disengagement accord than he was when he left for Damascus this morning. It was his third visit to the Syrian capital since he began his current Middle East mission.

Kissinger went immediately from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem where the American and Israeli negotiating teams were awaiting his arrival to begin a working session that is expected to last well into the night. Kissinger said nothing on his return to Israel. Reporters who accompanied him to Damascus quoted the Secretary of State as saying of his latest meeting with Assad: “We have made some progress but no agreement was reached.” He added, “We had a very comprehensive review of the situation….We passed from the stage of general considerations to the stage of detailed and complete examination.”

Observers took this to mean that the Syrians are refusing to budge from their positions on territories, buffer zones and limited forces zones. One high level U.S. official in the Kissinger party reportedly told newsmen that the Secretary of State was not sure he could achieve a breakthrough this week. He now knows what concessions the Israelis and Syrians will have to make to reach disengagement but he is not sure they will make them the official was reported to have said.

DETECT READINESS FOR ACCORD

According to the official, Kissinger can do no more until the Israelis consider the latest Syrian, response to their proposals. He has delayed his return to Damascus until Tuesday to give both sides more time, the official said.

Observers here have been watching the rise and fall of Kissinger optimism like a fever chart. Early last week he conceded privately that his chances to promote a disengagement accord were slim. Then Israel came up with a new map containing certain territorial concessions which Kissinger took to Damascus last Tuesday. His optimism soared when Assad did not reject the Israeli proposals out of hand. Arriving in Israel from Cairo Friday, a senior official aboard Kissinger’s plane said the odds were 52-48 in favor of obtaining an accord–the first time any American official ventured a better than even chance.

Last night Information Minister Shimon Peres, a member of the Israeli negotiating team, told newsmen that today’s meeting in Damascus would test Kissinger’s optimistic prognosis. Peres said Israel felt that Syria’s position was still “basically tough” although “we have detected for the first time a readiness for an agreement.” (By Tuvia Mendelson)

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