Washington (Aug. 9)
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s six-day visit to the United States appears to have been a success both for the Egyptian leader and President Reagan. Whether this augurs well for Israel or not may depend on whether Israeli Premier Menachem Begin achieves the same success when he visits the White House after Labor Day.
For it is apparent that the most important achievement during the two days of talks between Reagan and Sadat last week was the establishment of a rapport between the two leaders who had never met before. In fact, Secretary of State Alexander Haig said this directly when he told a press conference that he thought the “rapport between the two men … was the most important aspect of the visit itself.”
It is too early to say whether Sadat will have the close personal relationship with Reagan that he had with former President Carter to whom he paid a courtesy call today in Plains, Ga., before returning to Cairo. Both Reagan and Sadat, in their public statements at the White House, stressed they have established a friendly relationship.
Haig summed up this aspect and perhaps the entire Reagan-Sadat meeting when in briefing reporters, he said: “President Reagan is a new player on the international scene. President Sadat is an experienced veteran who has seen a great deal and whose own international stature is perhaps unparalleled on the contemporary scene. He is viewed as a man of vision, a man of peace, and a man of courage. I know that President Reagan has looked forward with great anticipation to an exchange of views with him.”
GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER
Reagan was, as Haig put it, in “a listening mode,” as he took in Sadat’s views on the history of the Middle East situation and how to proceed with the peace process.
Haig said he believed Sadat found in Reagan “an equally impressive, though a somewhat less experienced, counterpart; a man who sees the world from the same point of view as he; a man who believes that American commitments, American reliability, American consistency of policy, are the essential aspects of a successful American policy and will be the ingredient in the Middle East which will be the fundamental catalyst to a peace process in which all the parties can view the United States as a responsible partner that will meet its commitments” enabling all involved “to accept risks for peace.”
This stress on the U.S. keeping its commitments was another major point of the Reagan-Sadat talks. Reagan assured Sadat that the U.S. is committed to the Camp David process and particularly to proceed with the next step, negotiations for autonomy for the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Reagan Administration does not plan to make any proposals on how to proceed until Reagan meets with Begin, something to which Sadat agreed. He himself will be meeting with Begin in Alexandria this month.
The stress on the U.S. keeping its commitments also involves the Palestinian issue. News reports have stressed that Sadat failed to convince Reagan to end the 1975 U.S. commitment to Israel and begin talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
A PUSH FOR A PLO ROLE
There is doubt that Sadat expected to be successful. He made the point that the acceptance of the cease-fire across the Israel-Lebanon border by the PLO and Israel was the first step in the recognition of each other, a suggestion that both the PLO and Israel reject. This is why Israel insists that there is no cease-fire but a “cessation of hostilities” and that it holds the government of Lebanon responsible for keeping things quiet on its side of the border.
Sadat’s public support of the U.S. negotiating with the PLO may have been aimed at demonstrating to a hostile Arab world that he has not forgotten the Palestinians. While Reagan rejected the proposal, Sadat’s efforts may also encourage further pressure from those within the Reagan Administration and other Americans who want the U.S. to deal with the PLO.
Haig, at his briefing, noted that when Reagan rejected dealing with the PLO he “emphasized his own personal conviction that American fidelity to all of its commitments — whether they be to Israel, to Egypt, or to the other important friendly nations in the region — are a fundamental aspect in our own hopes to achieve peace and stability in the area.” The need to convince other nations that the U.S. is a reliable friend has been the keystone of the U.S. foreign policy enunciated by Haig and other Administration spokesmen since Reagan took office Jan. 20.
Haig went on to say at the briefing that advances toward Palestinian autonomy must be based on “realism” which he said was following a course that did not “derail” achievable “near-term progress” while aiming to achieve “long-term objectives.” He seemed to imply that this could be done by continuing the autonomy talks between the U.S., Israel and Egypt.
Sadat seemed to accept this view, for at his press conference he noted that not all Palestinians were members of the PLO and that the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip are to be involved in the negotiations. Unfortunately, attempts by the U.S., Israel and Egypt to get West Bank and Gaza officials to participate have failed so far, principally because of fear of PLO reprisals.
DISCUSSED OTHER ISSUES
The Sadat-Reagan talks were not confined to the Mideast peace process, although the two leaders devoted the lion’s share of their conversations to this problem. Sadat, like Begin, accepts Reagan’s concern over the threat to the Mideast and the Persian Gulf posed by the Soviet Union and its surrogates. In fact, Sadat, using maps, gave Reagan a 30-minute “overview” of the entire situation in the area.
Probably as important to Sadat were the discussions on bilateral problems which chiefly centered on U.S. economic and military aid. Haig said it was the U.S. “intention to maintain a rich level of security assistance support to Egypt because we feel this is in our vital American interest.” Both Reagan and Sadat spoke of Sadat’s efforts to improve the Egyptian economy. Sadat discussed aid programs with Administration officials and members of Congress. He made a strong pitch for private investment in Egypt in a talk before American businessmen.