Friday was a hectic day for Arthur Rovine, who works in the State Department's Office for Treaty Affairs.
There are so many details....
On the telephone during what should be his lunch hour, he was saying:
"Yes, a Hebrew text has just been brought in to us by the Israelis and the translators are busy right now comparing the Hebrew and Arabic texts. The Egyptians have their own Hebrew expert and he's busy examining the Israeli text. The Israelis' Arabic experts have already looked over the Egyptians' text and they are discussing some small discrepancies.
"No, we don't know yet whether they will sign in all three languages on Monday or only in English."
Whatever is signed today by Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat, it will look like a slim, very elegant book, bound in blue morocco with a triple gold stripe running around the edges of the cover. The inside of the cover is lined with white silk, and as of Friday afternoon the 20-odd pages of the English-language treaty were held together by the rings of a loose-leaf binder.
"Sometimes we use the ribbon and seals, and sometimes we don't," says Rovine. "It depends on what the other party prefers -- in this case, what the Israelis and Egyptians prefer. We do have wax and a metal stamp to make an impression on it, in case that's what they want."
Ribbons and sealing wax -- to bind the pages in order -- are still popular where traditional ceremony is treasured, or where the level of mistrust is high: some Latin American countries and the Soviet Union, for example. The National Archiyes has some treaties with the Soviet Union on which the signers have initialed each page -- a practical impossibility when the treaty is very long and in two languages.
It is not expected that Begin, Carter and Sadat will initial the treaty today, although the text is manageable in size. In English, it fills six pages -- with an added page for signatures, and three annexes comprising another 15 pages and a map. Some treaties are 10 times that long -- and even longer if there is the problem of languages.
When two countries make a treaty, it is normally drawn up in both languages and in two copies. In X country's copy, the X-language text normally comes first, and vice versa for Y. In the present case, the situation is complicated because there are three languages and two of them (Hebrew and Arabic) read from right to left.
"The front of an Arabic or Hebrew book would be the back of an English book," Rovine explains, so in this treaty, the bound copy will have two fronts, and the English text is assured of its own front page in all versions.
But which non-English text will the United States banish to the interior? "We follow alphabetical order," says Rovine, "and since 'E' comes before 'I' the American text will put Arabic before Hebrew" -- so that the Arabic text will be last from an American point of view, but first from an Egyptian's.
In comparison, last year's Panama Canal Treaty (involving only two languages, both of which read from left to right) was relatively simple, bound in the same kind of blue morocco, but with an eagle and elaborate scrollwork on the cover because it is an American treaty (the U.S. is signing the Israeli-Egyptian treaty only as a witness.)
There is a ribbon and wax (ceremony is still valued in Panama) and the treaty contains a fairly standard clause noting that it is drawn up "in duplicate, in the English and Spanish languages, both texts being equally authentic." The signed text is typed with an IBM Selectric on paper of high rag content.
Today's Israeli-Egyptian treaty is also typed (if time permits treaties are sometimes printed before being signed), this time using a Vydec typewriter. This typed text will be the final reference, and in case of divergences between the Arabic and Hebrew, the English text will prevail.
Appropriately, the signing will take place on a historic mahogany table which has been used for some notable treaties in the past: in 1898, the treaty ending the Spanish-American War, in 1929, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which condemned war as a means of settling international disputes; in 1972, a part of the first SALT agreement, and in 1976, a treaty with the Soviet Union on the peaceful uses of atomic energy.
Nothing special is being planned in terms of pens and ink, except to "assure that the signature will dry immediately -- we don't want any blots on our treaties," Rovine explains. "Otherwise, there is no set procedure. Sometimes the pens are kept as souvenirs -- or people just take them as souvenirs -- and sometimes they don't."
Paper is rapidly becoming a thing of the past at the State Department. And on the whole, Milton O. Gustafson, chief of the diplomatic branch at the National Archives, approves. "Probably 99 percent of the paper produced by the federal government should be thrown away," he says, "particularly when you consider how many things are produced in multiple copies.
"A large part of our job is records management. We 'put documents to sleep' here regularly and some of them should have been put to sleep before they got here. But there are some cases in which the original paper should be saved -- certainly in the case of treaties -- and we have persuaded the State Department to continue saving them."
Otherwise, paper communications are read, indexed and microfilmed, then destroyed -- and microfilm becomes the official copy. Telegraphic communications go directly into a computer and are assigned a reference number, and the official copy is a microfilm of the computer printout.
Within the Archives, where Gustafson presides over some 10,000 historic American treaties and other international agreements, he recalls stories from the past. The Treaty of Versailles, for example -- Woodrow Wilson's diplomatic masterpiece and a very bulky document, since it was the founding charter of the League of Nations -- took a long time to find its way to the Archives.
"Woodrow Wilson took it home with him when his administration ended," Gustafson says, "and for a while nobody noticed that it was gone. Then Harding's secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, couldn't find it and he asked Wilson about it. Wilson said yes, he had it and would be glad to return it if they would send a messenger for it and give him a receipt."
For another momentous international agreement, the Atlantic Charter, there is no official, signed copy at all, though there is one souvenir.
"The text was worked out by Roosevelt on a ship off the coast of Newfoundland, then the text was radioed to Washington and issued in the form of a press release," Gustafson says.
"But Roosevelt and Churchill never got around to putting a copy on paper and signing it. Later, a young naval aide who had access to both Roosevelt and Churchill got a printed copy and had both of them sign it.
"His name is George Elsey, he is now president of the American Red Cross, and he owns the only signed copy of the Atlantic Charter."