President Anwar Sadat’s decision to suspend the autonomy talks on both the ministerial and working committee levels drew expressions of surprise and regret from Israeli officials and apparently caused consternation in Washington. Secretary of State Edmund Muskie promptly called home the U.S. Ambassadors to Israel and Egypt, Samuel Lewis and Alfred Atherton, for consultations. The two envoys who returned to Washington last night were meeting today with Muskie at the State Department to plan ways to have the talks resume.
Special Ambassador Sol Linowitz, who has been representing the U.S. at the autonomy talks, also returned to Washington to brief President Carter and the Secretary of State. The State Department predicted Friday that the suspension would be only temporary.
Sodat’s unexpected move followed the adjournment last Wednesday of the latest round of negotiations at Herzliya where, after six days, no discernable progress was made on key issues. Although disappointment was expressed by all parties, including Carter, the talks had been scheduled to resume this week in Egypt.
LOCK OF PROGRESS CITED
Before leaving the Middle East, Linowitz said Sodat wanted time to reflect on the Herzliya talks and consult with his advisors. According to Linowitz, the lower level working committees of Israel and Egypt would continue to meet in the interim. But this proved not to be the case.
Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil, who heads the Egyptian delegation, told reporters in Cairo that all negotiations have been postponed and attributed that decision to “lock of progress.” Sodat is scheduled to make a major nationwide address on Wednesday when he is expected to explain the reasons for his move.
Israel’s chief negotiator, Interior Minister Yosef Burg, said last Friday that he thought Sodat had made a mistake from Egypt’s point of view, inasmuch as there are still two weeks before the May 26 target date set by the Camp David talks for an agreement on autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
According to Burg, Israel and the U.S. had been prepared to make a major effort to achieve substantial progress by that date and therefore the blame for halting the talks would fall squarely on Egypt. “Free opinion” in the West will not be impressed by Sadat’s decision, Burg said. He agreed, however, that with the ministerial level talks called off, there was no point to continue on the working committee level because the participants could not refer back to their ministers for guidance.
Burg and other Israeli sources saw Sadat’s move as an attempt to apply pressure on Israel and the U.S. to accept Egypt’s positions on autonomy. The main obstacle in the latest round of talks was the matter of security in the autonomous territories. Israel insisted that security remain exclusively in its hands. It rejected totally an Egyptian proposal which would have given the autonomous authority a major role in security, including a say on where Israeli troops could be located and on their movements within the territories.
The U.S. reportedly considered the Egyptian stance to be extreme. But the Egyptians argued that the Israeli position constituted a “pre-condition.” Khalil told reporters in Cairo last Friday that one reason for Sadat’s move was a speech by Begin at the opening of the Liberal Party convention on May 6 in which he said that anyone seeking peace with Israel must accept the fact that Israel will always control security in the territories.
At the State Department last Friday, chief spokesman Hodding Carter said “We fully anticipate that the next round will resume after a relatively brief pause.” He also said, “We continue to hope we can conclude this round successfully by the target date” of May 26. He pointed out that while Linowitz is back in Washington, the U.S. “negotiating team is in place” of the negotiating site.
The State Department attributed Sadat’s move to a desire to “assess” the situation to date. When asked if the Egyptian President might be aiming at a new summit meeting in Washington between himself, Premier Menachem Begin of Israel and President Carter, the spokesman replied, “I know of no such thing. The United States’ hope and position is that the talks will resume out there,” meaning between Israel and Egypt in the Middle East.
CARTER: GOAL IS MIDEAST PEACE
Meanwhile, Carter declared last Friday that the first major objective of his foreign policy is “to enhance not only the economic but also political solidarity among the industrial democracies” and pledged that the U.S. would not be “diverted” from the goal of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Addressing a meeting of the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, the President declared:
“We will continue to work for peace in the Middle East. Such peace is essential to all parties concerned. Israel deserves it and Israel needs it for its long term survival. The Arab nations require peace in order to satisfy the legitimate rights of the Palestinians and to ensure that their own social development can move forward without disruption and foreign intrusion.
“The West must have peace in the Middle East or run grave risks that the radicalization of the region will draw outsiders into its explosive conflicts. The Camp David process had already led to the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state. We are determined to reach a more comprehensive settlement. We will not be diverted from that goal.”