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Special Interview with the Foreign Minister of Egypt

January 10, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali said that Egypt’s Ambassador to Israel would return to Tel Aviv as soon as an agreement was reached on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Foreign Minister also reiterated Egypt’s claim to the disputed area of Taba, but said that should the dispute be submitted to arbitration, Egypt would abide by the ruling of the arbitration panel, even if it meant conceding the territory to Israel.

Speaking about his scheduled visit to the United States next month, where he will be accompanied by President Hosni Mubarak, Ali said that the Egyptian side would press the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, “as one of the major points to be raised with the (Reagan) Administration.”

The following is an abridged transcript of the interview;

Q: Egypt’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Boutros Ghali, was quoted recently as saying that improved relations between Egypt and Israel required that Israel withdraw from Lebanon, start peace talks on the Palestinian issue and agree to negotiate the future of Taba. Does this mean that the normalization process will remain frozen until all of these conditions are realized?

A; Well, I would like to disagree at the beginning about the normalization being frozen, because, in fact, the normalization was not frozen. For instance, implementation of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty is going on in most of its articles and in most of its spirit also. The liaison commission, the joint Egyptian-Israeli commission, meets periodically, as mentioned in the treaty.

We received the Israeli delegations for purchasing our oil, and it is not a commitment in the treaty. But we still sell our oil to Israel. We received at the end of the last November ’82 a delegation from Israel and we sold about two million tons. Again, some Israeli purchases have been implemented by the government, because all the sources of export in these fields are governmental organizations.

So, officially the normalization has never been affected, except in those areas where there is a possibility of affecting the population, as in the cultural field, for instance. Of course, you can’t depend much on getting a professor from Tel Aviv University or Ben Gurion University in Egypt during the massacres going on in Lebanon. We have to tackle such areas very delicately because we do not want to affect the normalization.


Q. What about more specific aspects (of diplomatic relations), such as the return of the Israeli Ambassador? Is this linked up with those three conditions that Dr. Ghali had mentioned?

A: No, it is not linked with the Taba issue. It is not linked with the normalization, but it was linked by only one incident — that is the Israeli bombing and series of massacres in West Beirut.

So it was linked in this area only.

Q. Does that mean that once Israel withdraws from Lebanon —

A. No, even once Israel gets to an agreement with Lebanon and the United States on an agreed schedule for withdrawal, our Ambassador will be back again to Tel Aviv.

Q: Dr. Ghali also maintained that Egypt would only take part in negotiations with Israel on the transitional period and the Palestinian issue in the presence of a Palestinian delegation. Does this mean that the participation of representatives from the PLO specifically, whether in their own delegation or as part of another delegation, is now a prerequisite for resuming the peace process?

A: You know, we are linked to the framework for peace in the Middle East, which was signed by the three countries — Egypt, Israel and the United States. And it calls for a participation from Jordan and the Palestinians, who will be attached or be an organic element in the Jordanian or Egyptian delegation. So we are tied to this.


Q: So it doesn’t necessarily have to be the PLO?”

A: As we all know, all the mayors of the West Bank and Gaza are PLO members. So it is only a formal appearance that a separate or an integral part of the Palestinians will be in the delegation of Jordan or Egypt.

Q: Do you think the participation of the Palestinians could take place without the explicit approval of the PLO, and do you think that under such conditions Israel would agree to negotiate with the delegation.

A: We have, in this respect, to implement the framework for peace, and in this sense it is for the Jordanians and the Palestinians to agree together about the formation of the delegation.

Q: By the “Palestinians,” you are not referring specifically to the PLO as an organization?

A. They can agree to that together. It is not for Egypt or anybody to urge the West Bankers or the PLO members to insist this or that.


Q. Has communication between Egypt and Israel on the Taba dispute reached a total impasse, or is there reason to be optimistic about an early breakthrough — at least an agreement on a negotiating framework — with the help of U.S. mediation?

A: I am still optimistic that our meetings will be resumed, because it is an obligation — an Egyptian Israeli obligation which was signed on the 25th of April ’82 — the day of the final withdrawal of Israel from Sinai. And I am quite sure that both countries are keen to implement all the agreements, and these meetings are aiming to start the conciliation, not as negotiations, but the conciliation, on the Taba issue.

And I would like to tell you something about this issue. It was needless to raise it. It was needless. Because whenever there is a frontier dispute, between two countries, you know, the full relations will be absent. And, as everybody knows, all the documents are very clear that this area is an Egyptian area. Whether it is one kilometer or one centimeter, it doesn’t matter. But it is the principle. So we have to solve this dispute in the nearest future for the sake of the peace and for the sake of the full relationship between the two countries.

Q: You spoke of conciliation, which according to the peace treaty provisions on resolving border disputes, is supposed to come before arbitration. Are you at all confident though that it could be resolved through conciliation, or do you expect it to eventually have to be submitted to arbitration?

A: There is always the possibility of differences in conciliation, and then we can transfer to arbitration. During the negotiations for the conciliation we can agree together that we can automatically, it we do not agree on conciliation, transfer to arbitration so as not to lose time.

Q: Egypt has stated repeatedly that it would never cede an inch of the Taba area and that it is Egyptian territory. Should the issue be submitted to an arbitration panel, has your government entirely ruled out the possibility that the panel might decide in Israel’s favor?”

A: If the arbitration will conclude that this land is not Egyptian, we will respect it, because an agreement is an agreement. But what we are sure about is that all the documents (show), and in its nature, it is our territory.”

(Tomorrow: Part Two)

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