Egypt and Israel are prepared to resume direct peace negotiations under U.S. auspices in London later this month. Vice President Mondale announced yesterday.
Mondale said Egypt had accepted an invitation from President Carter to a meeting that would bring together Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammaed Kamel and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan.
Mondale said he was confident that Israel would also accept the invitation, although the Israelis have not responded officially and have warned that their participation in such a meeting would not be automatic.
The announcement came at the end of a day of speculation that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat would meet Carter during a surprise visit to Austria that the Egyptian leader is making this weekend. Sadat did not specifically deny the reports.
[U.S. officials said in Washington that there are no plans for a Carter-Sadat meeting.]
At a joint press conference with Mondale, Sadat made clear that he agreed to send Kamel to the London talks because he appreciated the American efforts to revive his flagging peace initiative, not because he had heard anything new from the Israelis.
Asked if there was any sign of progress on the issues, Sadat replied, "To be frank, no."
At the London meeting, which is expected to begin about mid-July, Vance and the two foreign ministers are to discuss Egyptian proposals for a peace settlement that Sadat delivered to Mondale yesterday for a transmittal to Carter and the Israelis.
Sadat declined to give any details of the Egyptian peace proposals, which represent a counter offer to the peace plan submitted by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at his Dec. 25 summit conference with Sadat last year.
The outline of the Egyptian plan, however, has been published in the Cairo press and confirmed by Kamel. Egypt is proposing that the Israelis withdraw from the Arab lands they occupied in the 1967 war, returning Gaza to Egyptian control and the West Bank to Jordan, and negotiate peace terms and security arrangements after that.
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials last night adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward Sadat's latest peace proposal, saying they will base their decision to negotiate on the basis of the Egyptian proposal on whether it contains any "prior conditions," Washington Post correspondent William Claiborne reported from Jerusalem.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "We will look it over. We hope there will not be any preconditions. We are willing to put on the table and discuss it like any other proposal but if it asks for our acceptance of prior conditions, then it is a different matter."
Informed Israeli government officials, reflecting comments made Sunday by Begin, also insisted yesterday that if the Egyptians place prior conditions of withdrawal in their offer, Israel will probably not participate in the talks in London, Claiborne reported.
A decision to have Kamel and Dayan meet Vance in London would appear to represent more of a statement of both sides' desire to revive the negotiations than any discernible movement toward agreement. Mondale, while describing Sadat's acceptance of Carter's invitation as a significant development, said the London talks would be only a "first step in a review and analysis of where we go from here."
There have been no direct negotiations between Egyptian and Israel since the last meeting of the joint military committee in March. Talks on political issues have been at a standstill since Sadat pulled his delegation out of talks in Jerusalem in January.
By accepting Carter's invitation to a new meeting without waiting for Israel's response to his new peace proposals, Sadat may gain a public relations advantage and defuse criticism of him for pulling out of the Jerusalem talks. The criticism was beginning to affect his image as a peacemaker.
Observers here pointed out that Mondale, who came to the Middle East to take part in ceremonies marking Israel's 30th anniversary and to shore up U.S.-Israeli relations, headed for home praising Sadat as the "leader who made the chance for peace real and possible and tangible."
As if to demonstrate the lengths to which he is prepared to go in his quest for peace, Sadat said he preferred that the foreign ministers meet in Al Arish, in the Israeli-occupied Sinai. But he agreed "in principle," he said, to the London Meeting.
Sadat confirmed reports that he will travel to Austria this weekend for meetings that he said would be "related to the situation in the Middle East."
The opposition Labor Party in Israel announced last night that its leader, former Defense Minister Shimon Peres, would meet Sadat in Austria.
Sadat has sought to cultivate prominent Israeli political figures other than Begin and met with peres earlier this year. He refused to say yesterday whom he would be seeing in Austria, aside from Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, a past intermediary between Israel and Egypt, and former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.
Asked about speculation that he would meet with Carter, who is due in Bonn for the Western economic summit conference next week, Sadat said, "no arrangements have been made" for such a meeting.
He also pointed out that his visit to Austria is to end July 13. The day Carter is to arrive in West Germany. He did not specifically deny that he would see the U.S. president, however.
Mondale flew directly to Egypt from Israel yesterday afternoon and left last night for Washington. He, Sadat, and their aides met for more than an hour and a half, seated on wicker chairs drawn up in a circle on the breezy lawn of Sadat's seaside residence here.
Mondale was overheard telling Sadat that he brought a message from Begin. Speaking of Sadat's trip to Jerusalem last November, Mondale said Begin told him that "those two days were the most important of his life. Those were his exact words."
Both Mondale and Sadat were asked about Carter's statement in an interview published Sunday that it might be necessary to reconvene the Geneva Middle East peace conference as a "fallback position" if all else fails.
Mondale said Carter was only restating the obvious. Not proposing some new course for the negotiations.
Sadat reiterated his longstanding position that he does not object to Geneva in principle, only to going to Geneva without assurance of success. Failure at Geneva, he said, would be "a disaster."