Washington (Sep. 7)
The Reagan Administration does not expect any “breakthroughs” in the autonomy negotiations during Israeli Premier Menachem Begin’s visit here this week.
“I wouldn’t see as a result of our discussions in the next few days that we are going to have any great breakthroughs,” a senior Administration official said in briefing the press on the upcoming visit. But he stressed that “I hope and expect” that the talks this week would lead to substantive negotiations with Israel, Egypt and the U.S. “with an eye toward the earliest possible agreement.”
Begin arrived in New York yesterday and will come to Washington Tuesday for talks with President Reagan Wednesday and Thursday. He will also meet with other Administration officials as well as members of Congress. (See separate story P.3)
At the briefing, the senior official stressed that when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Washington last month he and the Administration held “preliminary discussions” on the autonomy negotiations for the West Bank and Gaza Strip and now “preliminary discussions” would also be held with Begin.
During Sadat’s visit, both the Reagan Administration and the Egyptian leader agreed that no progress on the autonomy talks could be made until after Reagan met with Begin and then the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the fall. But then Sadat and Begin met in Alexandria, Egypt, and agreed to resume the negotiations in Cairo Sept. 23 and 24.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig admitted on Aug. 28 that the U.S. was “pleasantly surprised” by the Sadat-Begin agreement. Noting this, the senior official said that during the talks with Begin here this week the U.S. will decide on the “level” of U.S. participation in the Cairo talks.
AWACS SALE ON THE AGENDA
The Administration’s proposal to sell AWACS reconnaissance planes and other sophisticated equipment to the Saudis will also be discussed during Begin’s visit, the senior official said. The official sidestepped a question whether Begin is expected to make a public pitch against the proposal, but noted that both sides would make their views clear “privately” and said the U.S. “hopes to get a sympathetic hearing.”
The official said the Administration will try to calm Israel’s concern about the proposed sale and indicated that in past discussions and in the talks this week there may be U.S. proposals of additional aid to Israel. Since this will be the first meeting between Reagan and Begin, the official said that a major purpose of the meeting is for the two leaders “to meet and know each other and to develop a friendship that will foster a close and productive working relationship.” The establishment of a friendly relationship was considered the major achievement of Sadat’s meetings with Reagan.
LEBANON SITUATION TO BE DISCUSSED
The official said that Lebanon will also be discussed and for that purpose Philip Habib, Reagan’s special envoy for the crisis in that Arab country, will be present. The official said the discussions will concern the situation since the cease-fire established last month and the prospects for further progress “in those areas where Israel is involved and can be helpful.”
The official stressed that the talks would include all of Lebanon not just south Lebanon. But he said that the Syrian missiles in Lebanon, which caused the crisis for which Habib was first sent to the Middle East last May is “not a forgotten issue.”
Asked about the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, the official said if it comes up the U.S. will stress that it considers them a “political problem as we look at the future of the peace process.” But he said there would be no discussion of their legality. The Carter Administration considered the settlements illegal. But the Reagan Administration has maintained it’s a political, not a legal problem.