JERUSALEM (May. 14)
Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger returned here from Damascus tonight amid indications that developments in the next 36 hours will determine whether or not he succeeds in achieving an Israeli-Syrian disengagement accord in his current diplomatic rounds.
A high official in Kissinger’s entourage said tonight that “considerable progress” has been made since the Secretary of State began his Jerusalem-Damascus shuttle diplomacy two weeks ago. Both sides are substantially closer than they were when the Secretary arrived in the region, the official said. But he conceded that Kissinger needed some “consideration” by Israel, Syria or both before he could bridge the gap and wrap up disengagement talks.
Kissinger will report on his latest talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad to the Israeli negotiating team tonight and is expected to fly back to Damascus tomorrow afternoon. But U.S. officials indicated that there was essentially no change in the situation since Kissinger took off for Damascus this morning, apparently without any new territorial concessions from Israel.
U.S. sources noted tonight that the differences between the Israelis and Syrians were “small in kilometers but large emotionally.” Kissinger and his staff exuded optimism this morning and implied that there was still a chance of reaching an Israeli-Syrian agreement this week. Kissinger must be back in Washington by next Monday at the latest and is expected to leave the Middle East over the weekend.
DIFFERENCES CONTINUE BETWEEN ISRAEL, KISSINGER
Israeli officials were less sanguine over the prospects of an agreement in the current round of negotiations. Although no official announcement was made after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. it seemed clear that the care-taker government rejected further Syrian territorial demands that Include an Israeli withdrawal from strategic hills surrounding the Golan Heights town of Kuneitra.
American sources here said Assad had implied to the Secretary that Syria would accept UN occupation of the hills overlooking Kuneitra if Syria’s other conditions were met. According to the sources, Assad told Kissinger that Syria would not insist on a formal commitment from Israel at this stage to withdraw from all Syrian land occupied since the 1967 war–provided that the U.S. guaranteed such a commitment from Israel at the Geneva conference.
When Kissinger left Damascus today he told newsmen that he had held “further extensive talks in a most cordial atmosphere….No agreement was reached.” He said he was returning to Israel to “bring the government some further Syrian thoughts” on disengagement. Kissinger made no comment on his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport this evening where he was met by his wife, Nancy, and Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Israeli officials gave the impression that the next 24 hours will be crucial to the success of disengagement at this time. “I believe that we will evaluate the position with Kissinger on his return and that he will make his decision on the continuation of the situation,” Eban said before Kissinger landed.
Basic differences were indicated here between the Israeli and Kissinger approaches to disengagement. The Secretary has tended to isolate the territorial issues and concentrate on them in the belief that once they are settled, every other element will fall into place. But Israelis find it difficult to separate the question of the disengagement line from the question of buffer zones. limited forces zones and other security provisions designed to protect and stabilize a disengagement accord.
Israeli negotiators told Kissinger yesterday that they needed more detailed information on what Syria proposed to offer in return for the territorial concessions Israel is prepared to make, sources here said. The vital issues of limited forces zones and effective guarantees have hardly been discussed in depth yet with the Syrians. But Kissinger and Assad are known to have moved from generalities to specifics on territorial matters during their meeting in Damascus last Sunday.