Egypt claims political motive in Carter drive to renew Camp David talks

Egyptian Forein Ministry officials are increasingly indignant about what they say are the purely political motives behind the Carter administration's insistence that Palestinian autonomy negotiations be resumed immediately.

No one here, though, will talk of overt pressure from the United States. Instead, in the words of one senior diplomat, there has been "friendly persuasion," applied in the form of explicit suggestions that a resumption of the talks would have a salutary effect on President Carter's re-election bid.

President Anwar Sadat suspended negotiations with Israel in late July after the Israeli Knesset (parliament) overwhelmingly approved a bill making a united Jerusalem, including the Arab eastern sector, the permanent capital of the Jewish state.

Mr. Sadat has said that given Israel's refusal even to discuss east Jerusalem , direct talks now are meaningless. (Egypt's contention is that the Arabs of east Jerusalem must participate in the autonomy scheme designed for Palestinians in the rest of the West Bank.)

The Egyptian leader has called instead for an Egyptian- Israeli-United States summit to be held after the US presidential elections.

In recent weeks, American officials have been urging Mr. Sadat to agree to a revival of negotiations, an appeal the Egyptians expect to hear again -- and to reject -- from President Carter's special envoy to the Middle East, Sol Linowitz , who was expected here on Sept. 3.

An announcement now that Egypt and Israel are going to talk again about the Palestinians, it reportedly has been pointed out to Cairo, would deny President Carter's political challengers, Ronald Reagan and john Anderson, a chance to cast doubts on the Camp David accords, Mr. Carter's most highly touted foreign policy venture.

But Egyptian officials resent this sort of argument, describing it as an unseemly intrusion of partisan US political priorities into an endeavor as complex and delicate as the search for a settlement in the Middle East.

In pressing for a resumption of the talks now, they say, the Americans have revealed an insensitivity to President Sadat's predicament in the Arab and Islamic world. Already reviled as a US lackey in some Mideastern circles, Mr. Sadat cannot have it said -- and remembered -- by the more moderate Arabs that he buckled under US pressure and slavishly agreed to overlook the Israeli annexation of east Jerusalem, home of one of Islam's most reverted sites.

"Of course, we want to help Carter," said one official, "but not at the expense of our credibility."

What is disconcerting in the American approach, he added, is the impression it has left that Mr. Carter is listening to is political advisers, whose paramount concern is to see him re-elected, rather than to more experienced voices at the State Department.

Over the past weekend, Egypt's annoyance with the Carter administration surfaced in a surprisingly blunt speech to Egyptian parliamentary committees by Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali.

The administration, he said, sees the Camp David accords as an important asset in Mr. Carter's campaign and is urging a resumption of the talks regardless of what the Israelis have done regarding east Jerusalem.

"They [the Carter administration] want to give American public opinion the impression their Middle East efforts are still achieving positive results," General Ali charged.

Mr. Sadat, too, recently has taken the unusual step of making his differences with President Carter public. TOrdinarily only too willing to defer to his "good friend and full partner," President Sadat on two recent occasions has openly challenged Mr. Carter's contention that the talks can be started again. Instead, he has forcefully restated his conviction that the Israelis must first undo the diplomatic damage they have done.

What that means, Egyptian spokesmen say, is an agreement by Israel to negotiate the future status of east Jerusalem and to halt the construction of settlements on the accupied West Bank of the Jordan River.

Foreign Ministry officials are quick to dispell the notion that the dispute between President Carter and Sadat is critical. It is a minor disagreement between friends, they say, more over strategy than substance. Publicizing the difference is seen as a signal to the Arabs that President Sadat is, indeed, his own man.

"We want to make it clear to the Arab world, of which we are part, that we are truly independent in our policy and that we are satellites of no one," explained one official.

That sort of thinking is evident in Egypt's current drive to incorporate the European Community (EC) into the peace process. Following the breakdown of the Camp David negotiating machinery, the Egyptians have lent a more sympathetic ear to the anticipated EC initiative in the Middle East, hoping to increase the pressure on the Israelis to rescind their moves in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Heretofore, Egypt has been markedly lukewarm to international moves that threatened to compete with Camp David.

A recent visit to Egypt of Luxembourg Foreign Minister Gaston Thorn, EC chairman, coincided with the start of an extensive seven-nation European tour by Egypt's Vice- President Hosni Mubarak.

Earlier, Egypt renewed its contacts with Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu , a respected and experienced Middle East intermediary. Mr. Ceausescu favors an all- parties international conference that would bring together not only Egyptians, Israelis, and Americans but also the Soviet Union, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and other Arab states.

But in spite of all this activity, seemingly born of dissatisfaction with the United States, the Egyptians say they have no intention of scrapping Camp DAvid. Their purpose, they explain, is simply to guarantee that whatever emerges later this year in Europe does not contradict the principles of Camp David.

Given the US position as Israel's principal benefactor, it is argued here, there can be no comprehensive settlement in the Middle East that does not have the blessing and the participation of the United States.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.