Egyptian officials today sought to play down any appearance of disagreement between Syria and Egypt by saying that President Assad's rejection of a working group that might be looked upon as a rival of a Geneva conference was Egypt's view as well.
President Sadat's proposal was never meant to compete with Geneva, they say, only to "accelerate" the progress toward a peace agreement.
The foreign ministers will meet with the Secretary of State as they always do in the autumn before the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. The difference, as Egypt sees it, is that the process will be "intensified" with a special time put aside for the meetings instead of merely fitting them in, as is usually the case, into everyone's crowded schedule.
This is not to be confused, officials said, with the American working group in the Middle East, which is already in operation. Egypt never envisioned a working group that might act as a substitute for Geneva, the officials said, and the misunderstanding may have come about as aresult of Sadat's answer to a question of whether Arab foreign ministers would object to sitting down with the Israeli foreign minister.
"Well, they will be sitting in Geneva together, why would they have any objection?" he answered.
Sadat may have been trying to avoid giving the impression of geing opposed in principle to the idea of Arabs and Israelis meeting face-to-face, officials suggested, but that this does not mean that he was actually suggestion such a formula for the working group.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the Egyptians were disappointed with the proposals Vance brought to Egypt, officials said, because Egypt had never had any illusions that the current Vance trip to the Middle East could solve all the remaining problems. But if there are disappointments they are over Israel's continuing pre-occupation with procedural matters instead of substance, officials said.
In Egypt's view, Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin partially succeeded in creating an illusion of flexibility during his recent visit to America while his real positions remain as hard as ever. There is a danger for Egypt, officials said, in Begin's call for a Geneva conference on Oct. 10 with both sides free to present their maximum demands.
A premature opening of a Geneva conference that might then end in a deadlock might satisfy the international demand that Israel negotiate with the Arabs, but it would settle nothing and the momentum for a settlement might be lost.