JERUSALEM (Mar. 11)
Premier Menachem Begin announced after 6 1/2 hours of meetings with President Carter today that the Cabinet will convene tonight on “important issues” that “still remain to be solved” and would reconvene in special session tomorrow morning, with Carter attending, to give its response to the President’s latest peace initiative.
Begin made it clear that tomorrow will be the fateful day. “Certain issues concerning the peace treaty between us and Egypt will be clarified and decided upon by the Cabinet during its night session so that we will be able tomorrow to give replies on these certain issues to the President, “Begin told reporters. Carter said, after leaving the Premier’s office that he and Begin had “a friendly meeting, a frank meeting, a thorough meeting” but” we have not yet reached a final agreement.”
Those remarks, the extended length of their talks and the noticeable lock of euphoria in Israeli circles surrounding the President’s visit gave credence to newspaper reports today that the deadlock remained on key issues. According to some reports, changes and counter-proposals that Egypt introduced to the Carter proposals that Israel has already accepted have created new problems. The nature of Carter’s proposals have remained a tight secret, as has the substance of reported amendments offered by President Anwar Sadat in his three days of talks with Carter in Cairo and Alexandria.
WELTER OF SPECULATION
The situation has given rise to a welter of speculation here. One unconfirmed rumor has it that Secretary of State Cyrus Vance will remain in the Middle East after the President returns to Washington to shuttle between Jerusalem and Cairo in a continuing effort to bridge the gaps. The reports said Vance would also visit Saudi Arabia and Jordan to brief them on the status of the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations.
Both Israeli and American officials are under strict orders to say nothing of substance. This leaves the media with only the official remarks of the principals as they enter or leave meetings and the time, place and participants in the meetings to report.
Carter and Begin lost little time getting down to business after Carter’s arrival in Jerusalem last night. Following an “intimate dinner” at which the Premier and Mrs. Aliza Begin hosted President and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, the two leaders talked privately for more than three hours at Begin’s home. A spokesman for the Premier described that initial meeting as “frank,” a codeword usually employed to denote tough talking and differences of opinion. Carter gave Begin a message from Sadat, the contents of which were not disclosed.
Carter and Begin met again, beginning at 11 a.m. this morning at the Prime Minister’s Office, this time accompanied by their top aides. These included Vance, Defense Secretary Harold Brown, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinsky, Special Ambassador Alfred Atherton, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs Harold Sounders, Carter’s White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan and other senior White House and State Department officials.
Begin’s negotiating team included Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ephraim Evron. The meeting, expected to continue through lunch, extended well into the afternoon.
SOME MINISTERS ARE UNEASY
As the Israeli and American negotiating teams were awaiting the outcome of tonight’s crucial Cabinet session, the uneasiness of at least some ministers became apparent. Yitzhak Modai, the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure who was one of the three Cabinet members to vote against Begin’s recommendation to accept Carter’s latest proposals, fold reporters today that Israel should not accept the American view that only marginal issues remain to be resolved. “We have passed the formulations stage and we are now in the substantive stage,” he said, adding that Israel can make no additional concessions.
Modai was adamant over Israel’s right to special status with regard to Sinai oil. He said it was “inconceivable” that Israel sign a treaty that would not guarantee the free flow of oil. “This is Israel’s right as the country which discovered and developed the oil fields in the Gulf of Suez, “he said. “This is Israel’s demand as a real rest of Egypt’s readiness for peace” and Israel would insist on it “in view of Israel’s special status regarding oil supplies and in view of the international situation of oil supply.”