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Behind Sadat's suspension of Palestine autonomy talks

By Nathaniel HarrisonSpecial to the The Christian Science Monitor / May 12, 1980



Cairo

Talks on Palestinian autonomy between Egypt and Israel are currently suspended by virtue of a surprise decision by President Sadat, but Egyptian negotiators believe they won't be in limbo permanently.

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"There's pause, and there will be a reassessment," one of them said. "But it's not a permanent rupture. It's not a breakdown. The talks will continue."

Just when Egypt will agree to resume the talks, and under what conditions, is known only to President Sadat, and he is expected to reveal his plans on Wednesday when he makes a major policy statement to the Egyptian Parliament.

The options before Mr. Sadat at this juncture include calling for the transfer of the negotiations to the United Nations or to a forum arranged by the European Community (EC). Both the UN and the EC have been more openly sympathetic to the Palestinians than the United States, and President Sadat therefore could count on more pressure being brought on Israel there than he now can expect from the Carter administration in an election year.

There also is a chance that he will try to mend some fences with moderate Arab states that so far have gone along with hard-liners in denouncing his peace treaty with Israel.

One Egyptian official, however, discounted the likelihood that Mr. Sadat would try to tamper with the negotiating mechanism agreed to at Camp David in 1978.

Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil has said a resumption would be futile without summit- level contacts, if not an actual summit meeting, among Egypt, Israel, and the United States. He said the suspension was in response to preconditions laid down by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the last round of the negotiations, namely, that Israel alone should control security in the occupied Jordan West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mr. Sadat's unexpected and indefinite interruption of the talks, which he himself agreed to intensify during last month's summit with President Carter, has all but nullified the mutually accepted May 26 target date. One negotiator admitted that nothing can be expected between now and then but said he and his colleagues are prepared to keep talking beyond that date.

He strongly denied that the parties will sign some sort of face-saving document by the 26th in order to give the impression that agreement on some points had been reached.

"Sign what?" he asked. "There is nothing to sign. We have reached nothing."

Mr. Sadat has said he wanted time to reflect on the results of the last fruitless session and to consult with his advisers. But the suspension, according to diplomats and officials here, may have other objectives. Among them:

* Injecting a note of anxiety into the negotiations, which had become bogged down in a morass of committees and subcommittees.

* Signaling to the Americans his impatience and dissatisfaction with their role in the talks.

* Giving himself time to undertake a major Cabinet reshuffle.