Over the last weekend the Carter administration faced up to the task of slowing down Anwar Sadat's razzle-dazzle, hurry-up diplomacy. Assuming they did not make pledges that are as yet unknown, the president and his men performed in a way that justifies the faith that they are learning fast. In exchange for what appear to be vague promises of the diplomatic support, they won Sadat's agreement to come off the roller coaster and resume peace talks with Israel on the least a medium-term basis.
The purpose of Sadat's visit was never in doubt. In general, he had become fed up with the slow pace and niggling detail of the talks that followed his visit to Jerusalem. More specifically, he hoped to use his flair for media diplomacy to invoke U.S. official and public pressure for quick Israeli concessions on two issues.
One, of critical importance, was Israeli agreement that the Palestinians be allowed to establish a homeland with the right to determine its own future, including the possibility of unfettered sovereignty. The Israelis had previously agreed to turn back occupied land west of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip for Palestinian rule. But they have balked at a sovereign state.
Second, Sadat wanted the Israelis to return to Egypt all of the Sinai Desert. The Israelis had accepted Egyptian sovereignty over the area, but they have insisted on maintaining settlements, and even establishing new ones as the negotiations proceeded.
Sadat broke up the talks on Jan. 18 in a surprise move that suggested he was not even paying much attention to the negotiations. By forcing a crisis, he won this trip to Washington, and en route to this country he dropped abundant hints that unless he received satisfaction, the whole process would be in trouble.
President Carter was extremely well prepared to slow down th hustle tactic. He kept Sadat out at Camp David - and away from the heady atmosphere of cameras and microphones - for the first three days of the talks.
He also took up - for purposes of compromise - a phony stance on the issue of the settlements. In the days before the Camp David talks began, the White House leaked word of strong American displeasure with the settlements. The juicy part of the leak was a letter from Carter to Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin claiming the new settlements were a breach of a personal promise.
In fact, the Israelis had notified the Americans on Jan. 5 about the settlements and received no great protest. But by overlooking that episode, Carter was able at Camp David to express the strongest support for Sadat's opposition to the settlements.
As for the major issue of Palestinian self-determination, the president pointed out that the Israelis were offering to return all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a possible base for the Palestinian homeland. He indicated that offer of complete reversion was a concession when measured against the earlier Israeli demands for the alteration of the frontiers. He suggested that in time the Israelis might be induced to yield more.
Sadat seems to have bucked this slowdown policy hardly at all. He agreed to have Assistant Secretary of State Alfred Atherton resume negotiations for a statement of overall political principles by shuttling between Cairo and Jerusalem. Though he continued to talk about Palestinian self-determination and the end of Israeli settlements in the strongest terms, and though he mentioned coming to conclusions in a "matter of weeks," he spoke in the context of ongoing negotiations. He told a group of [TEXT ILLEGIBLE] few months that's okay." "After a weekend at Camp David," he also said "anybody would feel relaxed."
What is now shaping up is a two-stage set of negotiations. First, there will be the shuttle talks conducted by Atherton for a set of general principles. All indications are that these conversations are back on track toward a successful conclusion. Next there would be detailed negotiations on particular problems. At that stage the hope is that King Hussein of Jordan will join the Egyptians and Israelis in talks that would go on for months.
To be sure, Sadat remains an unpredictable and impatient leader, given to sudden shifts of positions. His present trip to Washington was an example of a mercurial and unnecessary move. But he has been slowedown. He cannot realign his country easily - if at all - with the more nationalist Arab leaders who denounced him last week in Algiers. So a little give on the Israeli part - both on the issue of settlements and in seeking out moderate Palestinians - would engage Sadat to the point where he has no option except proceeding down the road to settlement.