LEEDS CASTLE, Kent, England (Jul. 18)
Middle East peace talks got off to a difficult start today as Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kaamel and U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance opened two days of talks at this medieval castle 35 miles south of London, aimed at renewing the full scale negotiations between Israel and Egypt that were suspended last January.
The peace proposals of Israel and Egypt are on the table, neither acceptable to the other. After a 3-1/2 hour morning session, the spokesman for the Egyptian party, Hamdi Nada, seemed gloomiest. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Israel’s proposal of limited autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip was unacceptable because it represented a denial of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and would perpetuate Israel’s military occupation of the territories in violation of Security Council Resolution 242. “Our own proposals are on the table and we are waiting for Israel’s response,” the Egyptian said.
But, he added, there was nothing positive about Dayan’s attitude toward the Egyptian suggestion that the West Bank and Gaza Strip be turned over to Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively while negotiations proceed on security arrangements and guarantees and on the future status of both territories.
Naftalie Lavie, spokesman for the Israeli delegation, seemed more conciliatory, though he hardly exuded optimism. He said the Egyptians had presented their position in a “sincere and intelligent manner.” But he differed with Nada on the scope of the present negotiations. The Egyptian called them exploratory. The Israeli said they were direct talks.
The discussions took place around an oval table at which each negotiating team was represented by three men. Vance, who presided, was flanked by Alfred L. Atherton, President Carter’s special Ambassador-at-Large to the Middle East, and Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Dayan was accompanied by Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Simcha Dinitz, and Meir Rosenne, legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister Kaamel was seated between Egyptian officials of Ambassadorial rank.
Other members of the American party include the U.S. ambassadors to Israel and Egypt, Samuel Lewis and Hermann Eilts; William Quandt, of the Notional Security Council; and Michael Sterner, the State Department’s Middle East Bureau chief. The Israeli party includes Attomey General Aharon Barak and Eli Rubenstein. Kaamel is accompanied by Ossama Al-Baz, a senior official in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.
AMERICANS ARE MOST CONFIDENT
The Americans appeared to be the most confident, at least before the talks began. Briefing journalists at the U.S. Embassy in London yesterday, a senior State Department official predicted that the Foreign Ministers’ meeting would succeed because it has only a very limited objective. He said the talks would be both exploratory and informal and thus able to avoid the procedural difficulties that dogged the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations in Jerusalem and Cairo last December-January. “There will be a living room atmosphere,” he said.
While Vance is chairing the meeting, the Israeli and Egyptian proposals are the only documents on the table. The official said the U.S. would not present proposals of its own and that despite the vast gap between the Israeli and Egyptian positions, it was felt that points of agreement could be found. Both sides, he said, claimed they wanted peace and both recognized the need for a transitional period for implementing a peace settlement.
The primary aim of the talks here is to enable each side to explain its position to the other. Once that is done, it might be possible to proceed to more detailed negotiations, and only then the U.S. might consider advancing its own ideas if and when it was appropriate, the American official said. He expressed the hope that after the talks here, the Israeli and Egyptian teams would report back to their governments and negotiations could resume quickly, perhaps in 1-4 weeks.
HEAVY SECURITY MEASURES
The fear of possible Arab terrorist attempts to disrupt the Foreign Ministers’ meeting prompted the last-minute switch of the meeting site from a London hotel to this 900-year-old castle in Kent, surrounded by a wide moat. It was also responsible for the heavy security measures taken on the arrival of the participants. British tanks and armored cars formed a ring of steel around Heathrow Airport for the arrivals of Dayan, Kaamel and their parties. The Americans avoided Heathrow altogether, landing at a military airfield before flying to Leeds Castle.
From a security point of view, the castle is ideal, located as it is on two islets in the middle of a 20-acre lake which in turn is surrounded by nearly 500 acres of woodland and parks. Six-foot thick stone battlements protect the castle. Nevertheless, armed police guard the gates and constantly patrol the grounds while helicopters circle overhead. The press is not admitted to the castle grounds, except for a six-man media pool. Official briefings are given at a hotel in Maidstone, six miles away.