WASHINGTON (Mar. 5)
The stalemated Middle East peace process took a dramatic turn today with the White House announcement that President Carter will leave Washington Wednesday afternoon for meetings with President Anwar Sadat in Egypt and Premier Menachem Begin in Israel. The President will arrive in Egypt Thursday afternoon and will fly to Israel Saturday night. The White House said his talks in both countries “will focus on the peace process, regional security and bilateral issues.”
Only a short while before, the White House announced to the media that Israel had “responded positively” to President Carter’s suggestions to Begin for resolving the issues that block the conclusion of an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The nature of the President’s suggestions was not disclosed. He proposed them to Begin at their meeting yesterday afternoon which appeared, at the time, to be the wind-up of the talks they had been engaged in since Begin’s arrival here last Thursday.
The President met with Begin again this morning for about 15 minutes. He also spoke twice to President Sadat by telephone, once before seeing Begin and again after they met. Begin, who held a press conference of his own at Blair House shortly after the White House announcement, welcomed Carter’s visit to Israel and said he would cut short his stay in the U.S. by one day. He will leave for Israel Wednesday afternoon instead of Thursday as originally planned. (See separate story for Begin’s full statement.)
CABINET ACCEPTS CARTER’S PROPOSALS
The stage was set for today’s rapid developments by an extraordinary meeting of the Israeli Cabinet in Jerusalem this morning. After six hours of intensive debate it voted 9-3 to accept Begin’s recommendations regarding Carter’s latest proposals and authorized him to continue with the negotiations. Four ministers abstained.
The Cabinet met as a ministerial security committee and its proceedings were classified. But according to one report from Jerusalem, the President’s new proposals introduced a completely different concept into the peace negotiations; thus setting aside major points of dispute between Israel and Egypt.
A White House source told reporters this morning, “I think we have to consider this (the Cabinet’s action) a positive sign. But having said that, it is important to understand that real concern” over the Egyptian-Israeli peace process continues. The source emphasized that “difficult issues remain” and “the consequences of failure” of the Camp David accords are “no less grave now than a few days ago” when Begin arrived in Washington.
That point was made again after the announcement that Carter was doing to the Middle East. A White House spokesman said that “obviously one reason” for the President’s trip is “the opportunity to discuss” the “ideas” that he proposed to Begin yesterday. The spokesman stressed that “difficult issues remain to be resolved.” Asked why the President was traveling to the Middle East when Begin is already here, the spokesman said that a “personal visit” by Carter “offers the best hope for success.”
NO GUARANTEE OF SUCCESS
However, White House Press Secretary Jody Powell, asked if a peace treaty will be signed on this trip, warned: “There is no guarantee of success but it is our feeling that without a major effort such as this the prospects for failure are almost overwhelming.” He said that there were no arrangements at this time for a three-way summit between Carter, Begin and Sadat. Powell also said he did not know when Carter would return, but emphasized there was no indication that Carter would engage in shuttle diplomacy between Cairo and Jerusalem. Israeli officials here also reported that no shuttle diplomacy was being planned by Carter.
Earlier, a White House source said the President’s suggestions had not been discussed with Sadat when they spoke by telephone last night. The White House did not disclose what Carter and Sadat had discussed by phone this morning. A source said “As always in proposing suggestions to one side, we will take into consideration the concerns of the other.”
The reports of the Israeli Cabinet action created some contusion here. A government spokesman in Jerusalem said the Cabinet had approved Begin’s “recommendations, ” not Carter’s suggestions. It was not known whether or how these differed or if Begin had simply recommended that the President’s proposals be accepted.
The Cabinet remained divided. Transport Minister Haim Landau and Health Minister Eliezer Shostak of Likud and Education Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party, voted against the recommendations. The four ministers who abstained-were not immediately identified.
It was understood in Washington that the President did not offer suggestions concerning all of the five principal treaty elements in dispute between Israel and Egypt The issues on which he made his suggestions were reportedly on linkage and priority of treaty obligations.
JEWISH LEADERS HAIL BREAKTHROUGH
(In New York, Richard Maass, president of the American Jewish Committee, credited “this critical breakthrough” in the Mideast peace negotiations to “the calm statesmanship shown on the United States and Israeli side in this moment of crisis. President Carter’s perseverance and Premier Begin’s steadfastness found that mutual ground for U.S. Israel understanding which, given the special U.S. Israel relationship and common interest, is essential for progress and greater Middle East stability. Both men are to be congratulated. Let us hope that President Carter will be equally successful in his meeting with President Anwar Sadat in Cairo.”)
(Howard M. Squadron, president of the American Jewish Congress, said: “President Carter’s courageous decision to go to Cairo and Jerusalem is heartening evidence of the Administration’s readiness to pursue every avenue that promises peace in the Middle East. The way has not been easy and we wish our President well as he sets forth on his historic, journey this week. He takes with him our blessing and our earnest hope that his bold and imaginative initiative will secure the peace to which we all aspire.”)