Egypt seeks new target date for jammed autonomy talks
Cairo — President Anwar Sadat's new chief negotiator on Palestinian autonomy is seeking a revised, late-1980 "target date" for completing the logjammed talks, clearly anticipating United States pressure on Israel after the November presidential elections.
Kamal Hassan Ali, in his first formal interview since being named deputy prime minister and foreign minister, stressed the Egypt intended to restart the suspended negotiations.
But he added that there was no hope for accord by the critical May 26 target date and that the talks could not be allowed to drag on indefinitely.
He strongly implied that Egypt would support a West European initiative on the Middle East at the United Nations should the talks remain deadlocked on the major issues -- including Jewish settlements and the future of Jerusalem -- through the end of the year.
As Mr. Hassan Ali spoke in his spacious, new Foreign Ministry office May 21, Egyptian Vice-Presient Husni Mubarak was preparing to leave for Washington. "This is one of the efforts" to get the talks started in the right direction, the chief negotiator said.
He had just met with American Ambassador to Cairo Alfred Atherton in what has become a series of Egyptian-US contacts over restarting the talks, unilaterally suspended by a frustrated President Sadat on May 8.
Mr. Hassan Ali, defense minister and No. 2 autonomy negotiator before Egypt's mid-May Cabinet reshuffle, emphasized the importance of the US role in the talks.
"I don't think 'pressure' is that right term. . . . But Israel and the United States have had relations for 32 years. . . . I think they [the Americans] have the ablity to convince the people there more than we do. It is a question of convincing your [the United States'] friends to do something that is for their won benefit . . . peace."
Is strong US intervention with Israel possible before the November presidential elections? "I think not," said Mr. Hassan Ali. "But I think that the Americans are willing."
After November? "Yes," he said.
It was in this context that talk of a new target date for the autonomy accord came up.
Mr. Hassan Ali said Egypt was seeking such a date and that "this is one of the issues" likely to arise in the resumed negotiations.
He made it clear that late November was what Egypt, or at least its new autonomy chief, had in mind: "I can say . . . if six months pass before we got a final solution for the [autonomy] problem, it is not a long time. This is just a personal estimation . . . six months from the 26th of May."
Other senior Egyptian officials had been dancing around theand other reporters, but Mr. Hassan Ali was the first to raise the issue directly and for the record.
Egyptian officials had said that Mr. Sadat's "bottom line" seemed to be that there must be major progress by the end of the year, even if final agreement was not possible by then.
If this fails, the portly and soft-spoken foreign minister maintained, "we will have another position."
He stressed that the bilateral peace treaty with Israel "will be respected.
"But when I speak of another position, this means we will tell the whole world that the negotiations have stopped for such-and-such a reason. Then it is not only Egypt and the United States who are interested in peace, and even Israel, but I think there are other [West European] countries who are interested ," he said.
"We are not supporting them now in going into the United Nations or any other [route] complicating the negotiations."
He said he agreed with new U.S. Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie's May 20 suggestion that a West European initiative at this point would be counterproductive.
"But everything has its limits," said Mr. Hassan Ali.
US officials had said privately, when Mr. Hassan Ali replaced former Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil as designated negotiating chief for Egypt, that they viewed the new delegation head as more of a "plodder."
The former Army general, in his interview with The christian Science Monitor, seemed nothing of the sort. Dressed in a tan business suit, Mr. Hassan Ali spoke calmly, fluently, and with evident self-assurance.
He also made it clear that despite the virtual absence of substantive progress in a year of autonomy talks, he felt eventual agreement was possible.