U.S. to Seek Meaning from Egypt on the Announcement That the Autonomy Talks Will Not Be Resumed

The Foreign Ministry of Egypt announced today that the autonomy talks with Israel will not be resumed. The official reason given was Egypt’s displeasure with an announcement yesterday in Jerusalem that the Knesset on first reading had approved a bill declaring united Jerusalem the capital of Israel and with “repressive measures” Israel has taken against the Palestinians.

President Anwar Sadat had suspended the talks last week because of “lack of progress” but declared, in the course of a four-hour speech to the Egyptian Parliament yesterday that he had decided, on the basis of a telephone conversation with President Carter Tuesday to resume the talks of an early date. Sadat said he would announce the date of the resumed talks today. Instead, the Foreign Ministry statement followed.

The State Department, visibly irked by the Egyptians’ on-again-off-again tactics on the West Bank-Gaza autonomy negotiations, said it would take up with the Egyptians on an urgent basis the meaning of today’s announcement in Cairo. However, the State Department cautioned the media not to consider the situation critical.

NOT OF CRISIS PROPORTION

“We are going to attack the problem urgently but I don’t want by any means to lead you to believe this is a matter of crisis proportion,” Department spokesman Tom Reston said. He recalled that Sadat “had assured” Carter in his telephone conversation Tuesday that the “talks could get underway after their temporary suspension very soon.”

Reston added that “what we want to do is to have a chance to talk with the Egyptians on what lays behind the Foreign Ministry announcement. We hope we can resolve the matter.” Reston said he was not aware in advance of the Foreign Ministry’s announcement “or any communication” from Egypt about the Egyptian government’s second suspension of the talks within the week.

Reston said that the talks with the Egyptians will begin “very shortly” but he did not specify when that would happen. The U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Alfred Atherton, who came here last week to brief Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, returned to Cairo on Tuesday.

Reston said that the State Department was studying the Foreign Ministry’s statement and attempting to obtain a “clarification” between the U.S. and Egyptian governments. He said that the U.S. was “heartened yesterday” by Sadat’s statement that Egypt would resume negotiations with Israel.

With reference to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s complaint about Israel preparing a law declaring unified Jerusalem the capital of Israel, Reston pointed out “we are dealing with a position which apparently was put before the Knesset” but, he emphasized, there is “no bill” before the Knesset.

“I understand a draft of a restatement of policy (on Jerusalem) has been submitted by a Knesset member and it has been referred to a committee of the Knesset,” Reston said. “This statement of the position of the status of Jerusalem has been put forward by a member of an opposition party–a party not part of the government.” He added that U.S. officials will be discussing with both Egypt and Israel who has done what and what it means.

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