WASHINGTON (Oct. 31)
The Carter Administration’s apparent displeasure with Israel’s refusal to give ground on the West Bank settlements issue continued to slow the negotiations for an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty despite the trilateral plenary meeting at Blair House today, the first in 10 days.
In contrast to optimistic comments from Israeli and Egyptian leaders about the possibility that a treaty could be signed Dec. 10, in Oslo, when the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, the official spokesman for the Blair House conferees, George Sherman, had little cheer to offer.
“The overall negotiations continue to move forward” and they are “serious and systematic,” Sherman said after the plenary session. He could not say, however, when another session will be held. He observed that with Begin’s arrival in New York tomorrow to begin a private visit to the U.S. and Canada, the Israeli ministers at the Blair House conference will want to greet him. Sherman would not discuss why President Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance will not be meeting with Begin. (See separate story.)
He disclosed that the U.S. has presented a “clean draft” for the bilateral treaty but stressed that it was “a mechanical device” to take into account Egyptian and Israeli changes and not a third draft in the sense that the two previous drafts introduced by the U.S. were new. He said the U.S. has not introduced “new concepts” into the negotiations. While describing the settlements issue as “one part of the larger framework” agreed to at Camp David, he said that “in a general way, the impact” of that issue on the Blair House negotiations “remains to be seen.”
ISSUES PROLONGING TREATY TALKS
Apart from the settlements issue, another event that may lengthen the Blair House conference, now ending its second week, is the Arab League meeting in Baghdad starting Thursday on how to block the Israeli-Egyptian peace movement. A factor in that conclave is the agitation by Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization to expel Egypt from the 22-Nation Arab League.
These developments plus national elections in the U.S. Nov. 7 appears to have sobered the zeal with which the Carter Administration has sought to satisfy Jordan, the Palestinian Arabs and Saudi Arabia at Israel’s expense. That the Administration chose this time, when Israel and Egypt are nearing a peace agreement, is believed to be based on opposition by the Carter Administration to a separate Israeli-Egyptian peace although it would not acknowledge this publicly.
Reliable sources, therefore, see progress towards an Egyptian-Israeli treaty on all points of the nine articles in the draft, the preamble and the three annexes to keep the momentum going. But the timing for a conclusion is uncertain. So is the ultimate compromise on linking the bilateral treaty with the West Bank-Gaza Strip proceedings that presumably will remain hazy pending developments in Baghdad and a possible Carter-Begin meeting.
The difficulties over the treaty’s completion, according to these sources, lie not with the Egyptians who are prepared for a quick writing of a peace pact at Blair House but with the Carter Administration whose Middle East specialists want to move toward a “comprehensive” agreement before the Egyptians sign with the Israelis and thereby deprive the Carter Administration of diplomatic leverage on Israel.