Talks with Atherton to Begin Wednesday

Talks between Israeli officials and the U.S. special envoy to the Mideast peace talks, Alfred Atherton, will begin here tomorrow morning. Atherton rested at his hotel tonight after arriving earlier in the afternoon accompanied by Herbert Hansell, the State Department’s legal advisor.

In a brief statement at Ben Gurion Airport, Atherton said he was in the Middle East to “prepare the way” for the resumption of Israeli-Egyptian talks on the ministerial level. This was seen as an indication that in his talks here and in Egypt, Atherton will focus on attempting to clear up differences between the countries on Articles IV and VI of the proposed peace treaty while leaving the issues of linkage and the exchange of ambassadors by Israel and Egypt to the ministerial level.

The Israeli team that will meet with Atherton is headed by Eliahu Ben-Elissar, director general of the Prime Minister’s office, and includes Foreign Ministry legal aide Meir Rosenne, Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir and Prof. Ruth Lapidot, a Hebrew University international law expert. It was Ben-Elissar and Rosanne who, with Atherton and Egyptian officials, launched the first round of Israeli-Egyptian negotiations in December, 1977, at the Mena House Hotel in Cairo.

The fact that Ben-Elissar is heading the Israeli team, and that the talks are to be held in the Premier’s office, shows, according to observers here, Begin’s intention to personally and closely supervise them. Foreign Ministry sources denied press speculation that there had been “differences” between Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and that these had led to the decision to hold the talks under Begin’s aegis. On the contrary, the sources said, Dayan himself positively wanted the Premier to be fully and closely involved.

The talks are likely to continue through tomorrow, with a special Cabinet session Thursday a possibility if Begin feels, after hearing Ben-Elissar’s reports, that new decisions must be taken.

BUOYED BY BEGIN’S MOOD

Begin told Joe Clark, leader of Canada’s opposition Progressive Conservative Party, who is visiting Israel for three days, that adverse developments in the region Iran, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Yemen make it doubly {SPAN}###ent{/SPAN} for Israel, and Egypt to conclude the peace as expeditiously as possible.

Begin gave the distinct impression during this conversation, and during recent meetings with American diplomats and other foreigners, that he himself is still determined to press towards concluding the treaty with all possible speed and is anxious for a resumption of direct negotiations as soon as possible. The Americans are reliably understood to be buoyed by Begin’s mood and remarks.

But they are openly worried at signs of “erosion” in the enthusiasm of other Cabinet ministers to wards the peace process. The events in Iran and the long delays caused by legal wrangling between Israel and Egypt appear to have brought a number of the ministers to reconsider their support of the Camp David accords and the entire direction of the peace process.

Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and particularly the latter have privately expressed their own real concern at this “erosion” apparent in some of their colleagues. Hence, observers here believe, the importance of Atherton’s mission in achieving at least some movement Forward, even if an only some of the disputed issues. Progress achieved now would certainly restore some of the flagging momentum to the peace process, these observers feel.

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