Secretary of State Cyrus Vance today reported some narrowing of the gap between the Arabs and Israel on a peace settlement in the Middle East, but said U.S. efforts must be intensified if a Geneva peace conference is to be convened this year.
In a status report at the midpoint of his 12-day journey, Vance indicated that movement toward consensus has so far been painfully slow. While reporting "some narrowing of the differences" on the roadblock issue of Palestinian representation at Geneva, Vance said he has achieved no progress on the border question of Palestinian rights in a final settlement.
Vance said more clearly than ever before that in his current round of talks he is presenting concrete and detailed U.S. proposals of "fair" solutions to the many outstanding issues that have led to four wars a continuing arms race and unrelieved tension between Arabs and Israel.
Vance would not say what the U.S. proposals are, but a Jordanian participant in his meetings here said their general framework did not depart from ideas expressed earlier by President Carter - Israeli withdrawal from nearly all the territory it captured in the 1967 war, an entity or homeland for the Palestinians, and a full peace with normal relations between Israel and its neighbors.
From the Jordanian source and participants in Vance's earlier meetings with the leaders in Egypt and Syria, it is evident that the U.S. proposals include:
A compromise plan for Palestinian representation at Geneva that includes members of the Palestine Liberaion Organization or delegates named with PLO approval.
A mechanism for self-determination by the Palestinians on the West Bank of the Jordan River about their future after the end of Israeli military occupation. An international authority for the West Bank during a transitional peiod was discussed in the meetings here.
Withdrawal in stages by Israel from occupied land coinciding at each stage with Arab evidence of good faith in progressively normalized relations with Israel.
Vance, in explaining the detailed U.S. suggestions and soliciting reactionns, is reported to have done most of the talking in the meetings this week with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Syrian President Hafez Assad and King Hussein of Jordan. This is in sharp contrast to his February journey when he mostly listened to their ideas.
Sadat and Assad made clear that they rejected a number of the U.S. proposals on grounds that they depart too far from the Arab position. Some participants suggested that the Arab leaders sounded a bit more flexible in private on some issues but are still far from embracing the U.S. compromises.
Vance told reporters he had seen "some narrowing of differences," presumably by Arab leaders, on the nature of a full peace with Israel, but he would not furnish details.
A serious an fundamental conflict of views is likely to greet Vance in Israel. Prime Minister Menahem Begin is believed determined not to yield the West Bank, which he calls "liberated territory" and "our land," is strongly opposed to creation of a Palestinian entity there.
Moreover, Israel objects fundamentally to the U.S. role in proposing compromise terms for settlement, taking the position that bargaining should be left to direct negotiations betwen itself and the Arab states at Geneva.
Acknowledging the conflict between the Israeli and the Arab positions on the necessity for pre-Geneva bargaining, Vance came closer to the Arab view today. He said that going to Geneva with "too shallow" a base for agreement could invite an immediate stalemate at the conference. He added that the investment of more time in pre-conference efforts would be worthwhile if it can bring the parties closer.
Vance strongly suggested that a Geneva meeting in October as proposed by Begin, is out of the question. He said it had never been accepted by all the states involved. He also seemed to be more tentative than before about a Geneva meeting by the end of the year, saying that "there is a lot of work to do" before such a meeting is possible.
The U.S. must intensify its process of discussion with the Arabs and the Israeli to build the basis for going to Geneva, he said.
On the question of PLO representation at Geneva, U.S. freedom of action is limited by the 1975 secret memorandum given to Israel by then Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
The memorandum, which later leaked out, committed the U.S. not to recognize or negotiate with the PLO until it recognizes Israel's right to exist.
Vance said again today that this is a binding commitment. "Our country made it and we will adhere to it," he said. But he pointedly would not say, in answer to a reporter's question, whether he considers the Kissinger commitment to have been "correct."
At midday Sunday, Vance flies to the Saudi Arabian summer capital of Taif to talk with representatives of the Arab world's behind-the-scenes power and the world's leading oil producer. On Tuesday morning, he will fly on to Israel for two days of talks with the Begin government. On Thursday, he plans a whirlwind base-touching tour to inform Hussein, Assad and Sadat of his talks in Jerusalem.
In London on Friday, Vance will see British leaders and possibly South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha as well as Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere in a major new effort to make progress on another troubled area, southern Africa.