WASHINGTON (Aug. 13)
The forthcoming trilateral Mideast summit conference took on new coloration last Friday. Saudi Arabia, in a turnabout of its opposition to Egyptian-Israeli negotiations, has now publicly endorsed the meeting at Camp David which begins Sept. 5, and President Carter, in a newspaper report that the White House did not deny, was personally quoted as having said he called the summit because he feared another Arab-initiated war against Israel.
Although the Carter Administration sought to put the conference details under clock of secrecy and urged quiet by all parties as intense diplomatic and security preparations were rushed, the State Department warmly welcomed the Saudi endorsement of the summit that also carried continuing Saudi criticism of Israeli “intransigence.”
Presidential News Secretary Jody Powell said the President’s summit invitation to Egyptian President Anwar Sodat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin was “not based on any particular event” and would make “no comment” on Egypt’s reported military buildup that presumably led to the summit. Powell said the President’s initiative resulted from “a very careful analysis of the situation.”
Reports of an Egyptian buildup as motivating Carter emerged even before the summit was announced and Administration sources discounted them. But the Jerusalem Post on Friday reported that Carter told Hedrick Smith of The New York Times and Barbara Walters of ABC-TV of the Egyptian buildup during a private off-the-record dinner last Monday at which it was said Carter received the news that Sadat had accepted his invitation to the summit talks.
According to the Jerusalem Post, “the President feared that Sadat might start another war against Israel in October unless serious peace negotiations got underway.” Sadat had previously indicated October was his deadline for the peace process to show results. The 1975 Sinai troop disengagement agreement expires in October, the fifth anniversary of the Yom Kippur surprise attack by Egypt and Syria against Israel.
Powell acknowledged the President’s meeting with press people, including Smith and Walters, but he neither confirmed nor denied the motivation attributed to Carter. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, however, was told by a source knowledgeable about the dinner conversation and the principals, that the report of Carter’s expression was true.
SAUDI ARABIAN SUPPORT APPRECIATED
At the State Department, Vance’s spokesman Hodding Carter noted that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Fahd had expressed Saudi Arabia’s “support” for Carter’s Camp David meeting. Fahd’s statement followed his meeting with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Alfred Atherton who had gone from Alexandria to Saudi Arabia to convey the results of Vance’s visits with Sadat and Begin.
“We greatly appreciate the support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the Camp David meeting,” spokesman Carter said in a prepared statement to reporters, “and remain hopeful that the talks between the two leaders with President Carter as a participant will further the movement toward the just and lasting peace we all seek.”
The spokesman’s description of Carter “as participant” is a departure from Vance’s emphatic agreement with Sadat in Alexandria last Tuesday and the State Department’s own characterization last Thursday. According to the State Department’s transcript of Vance’s remarks in Alexandrio, the Secretary stated “as President Sadat has said, we are prepared to play a role as a full partner” in the summit talks.
When a reporter said “partner suggested that you are not going to mediate but that you are going to do something beyond that,” Vance replied that “a solution has to be reached between the parties, that at any time we feel there are obstacles that are impeding progress in the area, we will feel free to make our own suggestions.”
At the White House, seasoned observers noted that Sadat would not have agreed to the summit and Saudi Arabia would not have expressed its support if they did not understand that Carter was prepared to lean heavily on Israel to agree to move out of all but small parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would fit the President’s view of “minor adjustments” in Israel’s borders. “Minor adjustments” in that perception are not acceptable either to the Begin government or Israel’s Labor Party opposition.