JERUSALEM (Mar. 7)
Assistant Secretary of State Alfred L. Atherton met today with Premier Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan to report on his latest talks in Cairo with President Anwar Sadat and other Egyptian officials. There was no official word of what transpired at the meeting. The present stage of Atherton’s shuttle diplomacy has apparently ended and he is expected to return to Washington to participate in preparations for Begin’s meetings with President Carter at the White House next week.
Atherton arrived here from Cairo last night. He made no statement to reporters at Ben Gurion Airport. But at a press conference before leaving the Egyptian capital he indicated some progress in “narrowing the gaps” between Israel and Egypt on territorial withdrawals but not on Palestinian self-determination. Those Issues are the major obstacles to a joint declaration of principles by Israel and Egypt that could open the way to a resumption of direct peace negotiations between the two countries.
Atherton told reporters in Cairo that his efforts had “succeeded in narrowing some of the differences with respect to the declaration of principles for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East.” He said “I have been very successful so far in not characterizing the status of the negotiations on the declaration of principles and I will simply stay with what I have said–we have succeeded in narrowing the differences in some respect.”
Other American officials told reporters earlier that “the Palestinian concepts are about where they were. It cannot be said there has been any significant closing of the gap on this. On withdrawal, it is still not totally resolved, but that could be put in the category where there has been some narrowing of the gaps.” Atherton said in Cairo that he would return to the Middle East after Begin’s visit to Washington “to continue the process.”
Begin, meanwhile, met with U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis yesterday to reassure him that Israel accepted Security Council Resolution 242 and still regarded it as a basis for negotiations. The meeting was requested by Lewis, who is believed to be trying to ease the strain between Israel and the U.S. over the Begin government’s interpretation that the territorial withdrawal clauses of 242 do not apply to the West Bank.
Although Begin reportedly said that Israel reserved the right to its own interpretation of the resolution, he apparently agreed not to raise the issue at his meeting with President Carter.