Behind the Headlines on the Eve of the Summit
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Behind the Headlines on the Eve of the Summit

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President Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin are holding a summit conference that is unprecedented in its complexity, but one that Begin himself had hoped eight months ago would take place, although under different circumstances.

Just before he went to Ismailia last December to meet Sadat and present him with a 26-point peace plan which essentially continues to be his settlement views, Begin saw Carter at the White House. Afterwards, he suggested the trilateral conference now unfolding in the center of world attention. On Dec. 18, in his appearance on CBS-TV “Face the Nation” program, Begin said: “I have a suggestion to make to President Sadat. This I can publish in advance. If we reach an agreement, as I hope we shall, then I would suggest that President Carter invite both President Sadat and myself to come to Washington. And then, we shall be, let me say, in a circle of friendship and faith–a Christian President, a Moslem leader, and a Jewish Prime Minister–and announce to the world: ‘Pax Vobiscum, Sholom Aleichem, Salaam Aleichem.’ It means, all, peace unto you. I think it will be quite an event in the annals of mankind in our generation.”

The Begin-Sadat meeting did not reach the success that Begin had hoped would emerge in those euphoric weeks after Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem. In fact, Sadat broke off negotiations twice with Israel after the Begin visit to the White House. The major reason for Carter’s invitation is the resultant deterioration between Cairo and Jerusalem together with the Egyptian threat to mobilize against Israel, the threat of another oil embargo and the Syrian moves believed aimed at annexation in some form of Lebanon.


The difficulties between Egypt and Israel and Egypt and some Arab countries that Washington would like to wean away from Moscow, and Washington’s own energy and fiscal problems with Saudi Arabia as the holder of power, provide the setting for diplomatic difficulties never before encountered by the United States for a Camp David setting.

It was there that American Presidents met with foreign counterparts in friendly talks–with counterparts such as Britain’s Winston Churchill, Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, France’s Charles de Gaulle and Indonesia’s President Suharto and Yugoslavia’s Tito. Sadat himself was there with Carter for three days last February.

Carter has met three times with Sadat and four times with Begin. Sadat and Begin have met in Israel and Egypt but lately Sadat has said he would not meet with Begin again. Carter’s invitation changed that, but doubtlessly personal differences continue to exist. Newspaper descriptions have emphasized their differences in style and philosophy.


All this brings difficulties for handling the media, too. White House officials have pointed out that in summit meetings in the post at Camp David and usually even in Washington, agreements generally are known in advance and public statements are relatively simple to prepare. For this summit, “very little precedent” exists, as one top official noted.

This creates complications in public relations. The U.S. has held that as the host country it would be the spokesman for the conference and that would be it. The Egyptians, uncomfortable with large numbers of foreign correspondents, some of whom are not averse to seeking facts Egypt would rather not discuss, went along with this view. The Israelis, however, felt that all three countries should have opportunities to brief correspondents. The U.S. objected on the grounds that it might engender disputes and the Israelis agreed to go along with the host.

For how long the agreement will hold is uncertain. Somebody on each side will want the media to know its point of view apart from a U.S. spokesman’s version. Although the original diversion of views created some spectacular reports of Israeli-American conflict, it was actually amicably discussed and easily resolved between Presidential News Secretary Jody Powell and Begin’s spokesman, Dan Patir.

Israeli Embassy Information Counsellor Avi Pazner observed that the matter was “overblown out of proportion,” probably because reporters had little to report on substance. Powell pointed out that Egypt, Israel and America “all agree to basic principles” on the summit. One, Powell said, is that “the primary goal” of the conference “is to promote the cause of peace” and “that hope is shared by all three governments.” Secondly, he said, the three “share the desire to be as forthcoming and as helpful as we can with the press.”


Meanwhile U.S. government officials said they were expecting some 400 foreign correspondents and auxiliary media personnel to converge on Camp David by the time the meetings begin tomorrow and they are at a loss how to handle them logistically. This number, it was observed, is apart from the media based at the White House.

Powell’s briefings will be in the American Legion hall in this Maryland village which is the closest community to Camp David in the Catoctin Mountains. The hall seats only about 200 persons. Automobile parking on the hall’s grounds is limited to about 200 places. The community has two small eating places and two small hotels. Thus, most of the correspondents and other media personnel will be lodging in nearby towns like Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., and Gettysburg, Pa.

Thurmont is 60 miles from the White House. More than a score of foreign correspondents based in Israel, plus some half dozen Israeli reporters are coming specially for the conference to supplement their publication’s personnel in Washington. At least seven Egyptian reporters are coming from Cairo.

Camp David was originally built as a recreation camp during the Depression. In 1942, President Roosevelt selected it as a retreat and called it “Shangri La.” President Eisenhower named it “Camp David” in 1961 in honor of his grandson David Eisenhower, now the husband of President Nixon’s daughter Julie.

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