President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Hafez Assad of Syria began crucial talks on their strategy for peace negotiations tonight with Syria carefully refraining from any public criticism of Sadat's expected decision to go to Israel.
While diplomat analysts take it for granted that Assad is asking Sadat some tough questions and Egyptian souces say the talks are extremely delicate, the Syrians have so far done nothing to embarass Sadat or deter him from the bold gamble he seems prepared to take.
Damascus Radio and the state controlled newspapers here have not yet mentioned Sadat's announcement that he would accept in invitation to address the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem. But Syrians say everyone here knows about it because of radio broadcasts from other countires and from the Egyptian newspapers sold here, which are giving it front page coverage. The news has aroused concern among the Syrian leadership which was reportedly taken by surprise. Nevertheless, Syrians say the news has generally been well received by the populace.
Syria, according to informed Arab and Western sources, is still not convinced that Sadat will get any acceptable results from his policy of doing everything possible to bring the Arabs adn Israel together at Geneva and trying to convince Israel that her neighbors really want peace.
Syria also remains fearful that Egypt will con- clude a separate peace with Israel, despite repeated Egyptian pledges to the contrary.
Together at Geneva and trying to convince Israel that her neighbors really want peace.
Syira also remains fearful that Egypt will conclude a separate peace with Israel, despite repeated Egyptian pledges to the contrary.
Still Syria is believed to be willing to give Sadat more time especialy since he clearly has at least the tacit support of Saudi Arabia. Damascus is also not anxious to be perceived as the country that cut off a potentialy fruitful approach to the Israelis.
Damascus Radio tonight broadcast statements by Syria's minister of information, Ahmed Iskander Ahemd, that Syria "warmly welcomed" the Sadat visit. He also said Syria was satisfied with the results of last weekend's Arab foreign ministers conference in Tunis, which acceded to Egypt's wishes and put off for three months an Arab summit conference at which critics of Egyptian policy might find a forum to ahallenge it.
There was stil no answer tonight to the question that is holding the entire Middle East in suspense: Is Sadat really going?
Report from Israel indicated that the Israelis are making active preparations, but a blandly-worded communique about the first the Sadat-Assad talks about the first clues. Sadat is expected to hold a press conference Thursday before leaving Syria.
This is Sadat's first visit to Syria since the reconciliation between the two countries a year ago ended the bitter found that divided them throughout the Lebanese civil war. Assad visited Cairo twice earlier this year. One of the visits culminated in the announcement that they had agreed to form a "unified political command," which go far has not amounted to much.
Assad met Sadat at the airport and rode with him in a convoy into the capital. Although security police searched villages near the airport and reportedly confiscated some weapons from local residents, most Syrians seemed more interested in the festivities marking the seventh anniversary of the coup that brought Assad to power.
There were reports today that Assad wanted King Husseing of Jordan and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to join the talks here, making a kind of mini-summit of the so-called confrontation states to prepare a common policy on Geneva.
Sadat has apparently forestalled that by his decision to go directly to the Israelis to offer them essentially the same deal that the Arabs have offered many times in the past - peace for territory, territory that would become a homeland for the Palestinisn. The difference is that this time Sadat is talking directly to the people of Isarel. He sent a message to a symposium there today, in an effort to make the offer acceptable to them.
An official communique on tonight's talks between the two presidents at Assad's residence said they discussed all aspects of the "changing course of developments" in the Middle East and agreed that peace must be based on the principles of total Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war and the recognition of the national rights of the Palestinians. That has long been the policy of both countries. The differences between them are over how to achieve it.
The spiritual leader of world Islam last night gave his support to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's planned trip to Israel to seek a Middle East peace agreement.