U.S. Trying to Bring Peace Negotiations Back on the Track

The United States worked strenuously this weekend to bring the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty negotiations back on the track toward early completion. But the West Bank settlements issue continued to divert attention from the treaty itself.

In its efforts to assist Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to indicate to other Arab leaders that he is supporting the Palestinians and Jordan, the Carter Administration is taking the position that Israel is violating the spirit of the Camp David accords.

In addition, the U.S. is making the point that Harold Saunders, the Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East and South Asian Affairs, who is alleged by Israelis as having made promises to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians last week that Israel settlements on the West Bank would be removed ultimately just as they are to be removed from the Sinai, was within “the scope” of the Camp David agreement.

In his statement Thursday severely rebuking Israel’s Cabinet for announcing it would “thicken” the existing Jewish settlements on the West Bank, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said the U.S. would ” refrain” from saying any more about the issue until the U.S. had heard from Israeli premier Menachem Begin. Nevertheless, by background briefings and leaks the media has been emphasizing, with attribution to U.S. sources, that Israel is to blame for the temporary lapse in the Blair House negotiations.

No comment was forthcoming immediately in Washington on Begin’s reply to a message from president carter regarding the settlements. Mean while, little attention is being given to the Carter compromise with Begin at Camp David that Israel could extend its exiting settlements but not build new ones during the peace negotiations. Carter used the word “trade off” for this arrangement, which he said publicly was a good one.

Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, who arrived Thursday night from Israel with Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, declared that the Israelis settlements on the West Bank were there to stay. “I want to make It clear we don’t feel we have to apologize about it,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the State Department has thus for refused requests that Saunders hold a mew conference or disclose the American responses to Jordan King Hussein’s 13 questions regarding the Camp David accords. But Vance yesterday issued a public statement defending Saunders. He said: “I deplore the personal attacks on Assistant Secretary Harold Saunders in connection with his recent conversations in the Middle East. Mr. Saunders is an outstanding public servant who has had more than a decade of experience in dealing with the problems of the Middle East, and I have the utmost confidence in him.”

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