The Carter Administration is a sudden reversal of its planning, announced yesterday it is sending a small high-level delegation to Israel and Egypt this week in an attempt to resolve issues between them related to the peace treaty proposed by the United States.
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance had told news conference last Thursday that the United States was in “no hurry” to resolve the impasse between Egypt and Israel and that the U.S. efforts would be confined to discussion on the ambassadorial level on what he said were minor issues and that major is sues would be taken up afterwards on the ministerial level among the U.S., Egypt and Israel.
However, the Department issued a statement yesterday announcing that Ambassador-at-Large Alfred Atherton, the Administration’s chief Middle East expert, Herbert Hansell, the State Department’s legal advisor, and David Korn, the Department’s Israel Desk officer, would leave tomorrow for Israel for what Atherton expects to be a seven or eight day trip to the two countries. The Department statement said that the delegation would visit Egypt and Israel “as part of the discussions we have been conducting with both governments about the Middle East peace negotiations.
“They will seek to resolve the remaining issues related to the text of the peace treaty in order to prepare the way for negotiations at the ministerial level on the other outstanding issues. Following completion of their talks, Atherton and Hansell will return to Washington to report to the Secretary.”
CONSULTATIONS ON TWO SECTIONS OF THE TREATY
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency was told by State Department spokesman Thomas Reston that the consultations will concentrate on two sections of the peace treaty draft “and will not deal with side letters” to the treaty itself. Reston said that the consultations will concentrate on Article IV of the treaty draft which Egypt wants to revise to include a review of the treaty at the end of five years, and on Article VI on the items that deal with the question of whether the preamble is included in the treaty and the effect of Egypt’s treaties with other countries.
The issue of linkage of the treaty with autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza Strip was described by Reston as a “major issue” and will not be discussed in the upcoming consultations. Reston disclosed that the United States proposed this trip to the Middle East and that Egypt and Israel agreed to it as it would “supplement” normal diplomatic exchanges.
CONCERN OVER EROSION IN PEACE PROCESS
Informed sources in Jerusalem see the U.S. decision to dispatch the American team to the region as reflecting the Administration’s concern that an overly long delay in resuming the peace process could catalyze an erosion in what has already been achieved and concluded. Vance’s busy schedule with Iran and Cambodia now topping his concerns, and the visit of Chinese Deputy Premier Teng Hsiaoping at the end of the month means that Vance himself could not devote time to the Mideast talks until well into February.
The feeling among American policymakers, according to the informed sources, was that it would be wiser to keep up the “momentum” by resuming contacts meanwhile on the level of “experts.” Furthermore, the sources in Jerusalem said, the U.S. is anxious to achieve some measure of progress, if possible, in advance of the formal resumption of the negotiations at ministerial level.
The talks conducted by Atherton hopefully will achieve that purpose, with compromises expected on Article IV and possibly also on the accompanying letter (on the “targetidate” for holding autonomy elections on the West Bank and Gaza Strip).
Observers noted with interest that Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, in a speech to a political and economic forum in Tel Aviv yesterday, clearly seemed to imply that a 12 month “target dote” would eventually be agreed upon by all three parties.
Premier Menachem Begin, however, has argued on numerous occasions that Israel and Egypt, with the best will in the world, cannot commit themselves to a definite target date for the autonomy elections since those elections depend on Palestinian participation, which neither Israel nor Egypt can guarantee. Sources close to Begin, commenting on Dayan’s implications, said today that as far as they knew the Premier has not shifted his position on this issue.
In sending Atherton and Hansell to Jerusalem and Cairo, observers noted that the U.S. was in effect conforming to one Israeli request that has been strongly stressed in recent contacts: that the talks be held in this area rather than in Washington. Israel’s purpose apparently, is to enable Begin himself to have close supervision over the talks. Dayan, it is understood, endorses this purpose, probably because it would serve to shield him from any subsequent sniping from other ministers.