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White House Refuses to Discuss Letters from Carter to Sadat

The White House has refused to discuss the secret handwritten letters from President Carter that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said prompted him to initiate peace moves with Israel. Neither would the White House comment on Egypt’s severance of diplomatic relations with five Arab countries that assailed his peace initiative at the Tripoli, Libya meeting.

“We best serve at this point,” by not going into the Carter letters to Sadat, Deputy Presidential News Secretary Rex Granum said yesterday. He replied, “certainly” when he was asked whether Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Affairs Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski had been informed of the President’s letters.

Asked whether Carter had bypassed diplomatic channels for a period of weeks in his letters to Sadat, Granum did not reply directly. He pointed out the purpose was to continue discussion of Middle East settlement discussions.

An Associated Press dispatch from Cairo had reported earlier yesterday that in an interview with the AP, Sadat said he got the idea for his Jerusalem trip about two months ago after corresponding with Carter. “He didn’t propose it all,” Sadat said. “At the precise moment when I received his personal letter in his own handwriting that no one knew except me and him, then I started thinking” about the trip. Sadat said the handwritten letters were sealed with wax and delivered outside normal diplomatic channels by a special envoy, according to the AP dispatch from Cairo.

Carter may have been referring to the letters when in an interview published yesterday in the New York Times, he told columnist James Reston in reply to whether he knew about the Sadat trip to Jerusalem in advance: “Sadat and I exchange communications frequently and he had made a proposal to me a week or so before that date that was precursors of this one. But I have to say that Sadat’s actually going to Jerusalem at that time as a sole Arab leader was not anticipated.”

The President said the only concern he expressed to Sadat when he told him about the planned Cairo meeting was that the date was too early. “I felt then, and expressed to Sadat directly, that consultation with the other leaders who were invited would be helpful, whether or not they attended,” Carter said. “I still have that feeling which I believe he and Prime Minister (Menachem) Begin share.”

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