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Hopes of a Possible Thaw in Israeli-egyptian Relations

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Israel’s Ambassador in Cairo, Moshe Sasson, had a 90-minute meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassen Ali at the latter’s initiative this week, raising hopes here of a possible thaw soon in the chilled relations between Israel and Egypt.

Officials here noted that while there has been no substantive movement by either side on the issues outstanding between them, the meeting itself was an encouraging sign. They said Hassan Ali once again stressed Egypt’s demand for the prompt resumption of negotiations over the disputed Taba region near Eilat. The Egyptians want the matter resolved through the conciliation and arbitration process laid down in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty for disputes which cannot be solved by negotiations.

Sasson, on instructions from Jerusalem, reiterated Israel’s readiness to resume talks on Taba, but only on condition that the various stalled bilateral dialogues between the two countries are resumed at the same time. These include the autonomy talks and matters related to the normalization process. The dialogues have been frozen since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon last June.

Israel apparently made no specific demand that Egypt return its Ambassador, Saad Mortada, to Tel Aviv before talks are resumed on the Taba dispute. Mortada was recalled to Cairo for “consultations” after the Beirut massacres. Some observers saw the absence of that pre-condition in the Sasson-Hasson Ali talks as a softening of Israel’s position.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Alfred Atherton, told reporters in Cairo Tuesday that there were contacts in progress between Israel, Egypt and the U.S. for a resumption of technical talks on Taba. Officials here disclaimed knowledge of any such contacts.

Taba consists of several acres of beachfront on the Gulf of Aqaba which Egypt claims is part of Sinai and Israel insists is on its side of the old international boundary. Israel recently opened a new resort hotel on the disputed land.

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