JERUSALEM (May. 21)
Israel and Syria continued to move steadily toward a disengagement accord today and while the road was bumpy and the diplomatic pace was slowed down by wrangling over details, all concerned seemed confident that an agreement would be signed or at least initialed by both sides at the end of the week. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger flew back to Damascus before noon today after meetings late last night and early this morning with Israeli negotiators. He is expected to return to Jerusalem tonight for more talks.
American officials sought to dampen the near euphoria that arose here Sunday when word came that Kissinger had finally achieved agreement in principle by both sides on the key issue of the disengagement line. State Department spokesman Robert Anderson denied in fact that he had said Sunday that agreement on the line, in effect, had been reached. Anderson had indeed said that, but apparently intended it to be off the record.
The cautionary note adopted by members of Kissinger’s entourage today was viewed more as a reflection of the extremely delicate nature of the negotiating process at this stage than as a sign that something has gone wrong. Both sides were reportedly down to the minute details of the accord and taking pains that every phrase and nuance is clearly formulated and understood to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts in the future.
OTHER ISSUES BEING WORKED OUT
Information Minister Shimon Peres explained this when he disclosed, to the surprise of some reporters, that the disengagement line was still a subject of discussion at the latest meetings here with Kissinger. He said the Syrians had raised some further issues but these were minor and did not necessitate another meeting of the Cabinet to iron out.
Peres indicated that some work has been accomplished on other aspects of disengagement such as the POW exchange, the United Nations presence, the buffer zone and limited forces zone. He said these issues were being broken down into “hundreds of details” that remain to be settled and which will require several more trips by Kissinger between Jerusalem and Damascus. Peres said the Secretary of State was expected to continue shuttling between the two capitals until Friday, but will definitely return to Washington over the weekend.
Kissinger may leave the clearing up of last minute details to Undersecretary of State Joseph J. Sisco and Ambassador-at-Large Ellsworth Bunker if necessary, sources here said. Once a preliminary agreement is signed or initialed, the scene will shift to Geneva where Israeli and Syrian teams will have to work out a time-table for implementation. The accord is expected to be signed formally in Geneva by the chief Israeli and Syrian negotiators. Bunker and the Soviet representative, Vladimir Vinogradoff, co-chairmen of the Geneva peace conference, are expected to affix their signatures to the document at a formal ceremony in Geneva.
Kissinger’s desire to wrap up an Israeli Syrian disengagement agreement this week is matched by Premier Golda Meir’s desire to bow out of office on a note of success and hope for the future. Her caretaker government is expected to end its tenure with the establishment of a new coalition Cabinet by Yitzhak Rabin.