WASHINGTON (Aug. 8)
The White House today announced that President Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin will meet Tuesday, September 5, to “seek a framework for peace in the Middle East.” (In Jerusalem, Begin scheduled a press conference for tonight. See story P.3.)
Presidential News Secretary Jody Powell said that the tripartite summit will take place at Camp David, President Carter’s retreat in the nearby Maryland mountains, and that “no specific time is set for the duration of the meeting.”
Powell’s announcement also said, “All three leaders agree that there is no more important task than the search for peace.” He added that Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who has been conferring with Begin and Sadat in the Middle East, informed the Middle Eastern leaders of the President’s invitation to meet with him and they “have welcomed this meeting.” Powell said “the President is gratified by their response. “He also said that each of the three leaders will be accompanied to Camp David by “small numbers of their principal advisors.”
REASON FOR CARTER’S INITIATIVE
Immediately after Powell concluded his brief announcement, a high Administration official told reporters that Carter’s initiative was taken because lately in the Middle Eastern situation there was a slowdown in the momentum towards peace. He said there have been “intensified polemics and the parties, instead of moving towards peace, have been drifting away from it. It was in these circumstances that President Carter decided to take the initiative of bringing the parties together.”
This was done now, this official continued, “not because chances of peace are so high, but that the stakes are very high–not because prospects are so good but because the risks have risen. We feel it is important to maintain the momentum not only because of regional stability but because of the large international dimensions both political and economic.
“We have no illusions that the meeting at Camp David will produce a settlement but it certainly can help in narrowing down existing differences. It can help a great deal in bringing the parties at this period into face-to-face sustained personal contact to surface existing agreements which have been produced by President Carter’s persistent difficult efforts over the last eighteen months.
“These efforts have in fact widened the areas of agreement and we feel with the personal contact we can encourage the parties to resume more direct negotiations themselves. We thus hope, by setting up this meeting, we could contribute to the removal of the obstacles that have both lately and more generally prevented the movement towards peace. The meeting at Camp David is designed to serve that objective.”
Powell, when asked what were “the risks” that the high Administration official had referred to, said that they were “only in the sense the momentum” towards peace “has slowed down.” When he was asked about the “framework,” Powell responded that Vance is on his way back to Washington and “detailed information” should be obtained from him.
REMARKS ARE CAREFULLY COUCHED
Observers here took note that the White House remarks about the meeting were carefully couched to diminish the stigma attached to Sadat for his insulting remarks about Begin and his refusal to meet with Israel until Israel agreed to full withdrawal from lands it has been administering since the Six-Day War. The Begin government, on the other hand, in recent weeks, has offered to compromise and won praise from the State Department that “appreciated” its position.
There was also some consideration that Carter took the initiative to call the two leaders to Washington to prevent total collapse of the Sadat initiative of last November when he went to Jerusalem. At this time, when Congressional ire is rising against both Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the maneuvering to force Israel into accepting the precondition of withdrawal before negotiations, the fact that Congress may be adjourning for the November elections and the intention by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, including Saudi Arabia, to raise oil prices also were seen as factors in the President’s decision.
It was also considered possible that Carter may put forward “suggestions” towards a settlement which would be in line with his previous assertions of Israel withdrawing to its 1967 borders except for “minor adjustments.” Therefore, the summit meeting may be considered a testing of both the intentions of Carter, whose concept of a settlement is much closer to Sadat’s perception than Begin’s, and the ability of Sadat to allow Israel to retain air bases and the Rafoh salient for security reasons.
LAWMAKERS, JEWISH LEADERS HAIL MEETING
Prior to the White House announcement of the trilateral meeting, Carter disclosed his initiative to leaders of the House and Senate. Afterwards, those meeting with reporters praised the President for his action which was described as “a gamble” and the best chance for progress towards peace.
Sen. Frank Church (D. Ida.), who will head the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, said, “It may well be the last best hope for peace in the Middle East. Sadat and Begin have indicated willingness to have another go at it and President Carter is to be commended for his initiative and determination in getting the talks going again.”
Sen. Jacob Javits (R. NY) said that he believes the President is correct in having Sadat and Begin confer with him “quietly” at Camp David. He said it was a “gamble” in trying to “find some ground on which progress can be made.” Javits added that the trilateral meeting means that “the United States has not fallen for the idea of a peace plan of its own which would be a disaster or a prelude to disaster.”
Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Cal.), the assistant Senate Democratic Leader, warned that the Camp David meeting would not necessarily result in a significant breakthrough and that he did not expect “Israel and Egypt will sign a peace agreement in the near future.” He said he felt Carter would not offer a peace plan but would act as a mediator and that his “formula is to get people together.”
House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D. Tex.) said it was “the most positive development which has occurred this year for peace” and that “President Carter has demonstrated real leadership at a time when leadership is desperately needed to get the peace process back on the track.” Assistant House Leader John Brodemas (D. Ind.) said Carter should have the support of all Americans, adding that without” such leadership from the United States, the prospects for peace would be very bleak.”
Sen. Richard Stone (D. Fla.), the Senate Foreign Relations Middle East Subcommittee chairman, said he was “optimistic” over the trilateral meeting. Noting the prompt acceptance by Begin and Sadat of Carter’s invitation, he said that “indicates both sides want peace and are willing to bargain face-to-face consistent with their own safety that will bring peace.”
Jewish leaders also hailed the summit meeting as a major step in resolving the differences between Israel and Egypt and praised Carter’s initiative in bringing the parties together. Among those welcoming the development were Theodore Mann, chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Richard Maass, president, American Jewish Committee; and Howard Squadran, president, American Jewish Congress.