ASWAN (Jan. 7)
Premier Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat launched into their summit discussions here tonight with Sadat unexpectedly keeping his top defense and foreign policy aides at hand for easy consultation.
Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali and Acting Foreign Minister Butros Ghali came to Aswan yesterday to take part in a top-level strategic policy review with Sadat, Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil and other high state and party officials. Unknown to the Israeli side, Ali and Ghali were asked to stay on for the summit talks. Their presence underscored the importance attached to strategic issues — notably Iran and Afghanistan — at this summit.
Sources close to Begin predicted a convergence of views between the two leaders but did not anticipate any “operational” results to emerge. On the outstanding bilateral issues — autonomy and normalization — the Israeli sources expected “neither a breakdown nor a breakthrough.”
Both sides, the sources said, would seek to avoid confrontation and would probably resort to their off-used device of “agreeing to disagree” on still-disputed issues. They explained that the normalization was proceeding satisfactorily, albeit slowly for some Israeli tastes, while the deadline for the autonomy — next May — was a long way off.
The strategic preoccupations came to the fore immediately upon Begin’s arrival here, with Ali denying to reporters at the airport the Israeli television report that the U.S. is putting up a military base in Egypt. Ali said Egypt would not be prepared to have an American base on its soil though it would extend to the U.S. “facilities” for American forces. Ali maintained that no approach had yet been made by Washington in this regard.
He said the “facilities” would be made available to the U.S. to support an action against Iran if that action were designed to rescue the hostages, not to occupy Iran. This made concrete Sadat’s pledge last week that Egypt would, in principle, support direct American intervention on such conditions.
Begin, accompanied by his wife and daughter, was received with the customary pomp and circumstance and a bouquet of flowers from two local children — at Aswan airport. Premier Khalil led the welcoming party and be and Begin slow-marched in step post the serried ranks of the honor guard.
The reception on the streets of Aswan itself, a small and sleepy town, was friendly if not exuberantly enthusiastic. Curious onlookers smiled and waved as Begin’s motorcade swept towards the Nile bank, whence they were ferried over to the Indian-style Oberoi Hotel on historic Elephantine Island. The hotel had been packed with winter vacationers from Europe but they were all transferred to less prestigious hostelries and the Oberoi was completely reserved for Begin and his party and accompanying journalists, and for Khalil, Ali and Ghali and their wives.
Security was extremely tight, as is usual in Egypt on such occasions. Thousands of soldiers and police lined the streets of Aswan and scores of plainclothesmen protected the hotel and its grounds from within and without.