Although they have been officially characterized as autonomy negotiations, the Egyptians contend that in the next round of talks with Israel, self-rule for the Palestinians will constitute only half the agenda.
"Our main emphasis in these talks will be to prepare for the summit," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, referring to President Sadat's proposal, now accepted by Israel and the United States, for a three-way summit conference after the United States presidential elections.
Such a parley is seen here as a means of preserving the Egyptian-Israel dialogue on Palestinian autonomy.
Egyptian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Boutros Ghali says the talks will reflect "a mixture" of two objectives.Their purpose will be to lay the procedural groundwork for the summit as well as to confront once more issues that have kept Egypt and Israel at odds for more than 15 months on how to apply self-rule for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and on the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River.
This dual nature of the revived negotiations reveals the accommodation President Sadat apparently felt he had to make if he were to succeed in getting Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to join him in another summit with President Carter.
As one Foreign Ministry official explained, Mr. Sadat realized Mr. Begin would not agree to sit down in a Camp David-style forum unless the negotiations were resumed. Thus, after a meeting Sept. 3 with US special envoy Sol Linowitz, President Sadat dramatically reversed his position and agreed to restart the talks he had broken off in early August.
That break was to protest Israel's official declaration of Jerusalem, including the Arab eastern sector, as the country's eternal and undivided capital.
In the confusing aftermath of that announcement, Dr. Ghali said the new round of talks should not be considered autonomy negotiations. He said the talks would serve as preparatory consultations leading to the summit.
For authentic negotiations to resume, he said, the obstacles that have been imposed by Israel must be removed, meaning its annexation of east Jerusalem and its policy of building new Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
After his session with Ambassador Linowitz, however, Dr. Ghali amended his statement and acknowledged that autonomy would, after all, be a topic of discussion.
So far, the Egyptians have not officially indicated when it is likely that they will actually meet the Israelis again. A statement approved by President Sadat on Sept. 3 implies a willingness to resume negotiations in principle but makes no mention of time.
The statement simply says the two sides agree to restart the talks "at a mutually agreed date."
Ambassador Linowitz claims the resumption should come in a matter of weeks.
Whatever President Sadat may have agreed to, the official mood in Cairo suggests that he did so reluctantly. The announcement provoked no immediate complimentary editorial comment in the country's government-owned newspapers and was not a prominent feature on the front pages of Sept. 4.
When he met Ambassador Linowitz in Alexandria, Egypt, President Sadat did not offer his usual lavish tributes to President Carter and refrained from expressing his pleasure at having had the chance to speak with the ambassador again. Instead, following the meeting, he merely turned the microphones over to the ambassador and refused to answer reporters' questions.
Mr. Sadat, though, having earlier called for a cooling-off period until the US elections are over and stating forcefully that negotiations now are meaningless, finally acceded to the wishes of the Carter administration.
Few analysts here are discounting the likelihood that President Sadat softened his resistance in the knowledge that to resume negotiations would be a boon to President Carter's bid for re-election.
On Wednesday, however, Mr. Linowitz testily dismissed that sort of thinking as unsophisticated. He denied that his was a political mission, saying he undertook the trip because the administration had feared an outbreak of violence in the region in the absence of momentum in the Camp David process.