Egypt and Israel are to begin negotiations here today, under U.S. sponsorship, to draw up a peace treaty to end 30 years of hostility and create a new reality in the strategic Middle East.
President Carter is to welcome the foreign and defense ministers of the two nations and their aides in an East Room ceremony at the White House this morning. The official talks will open after a formal luncheon across the street in Blair House, the presidential guest house.
The main issues to be decided in negotiation of the peace treaty are the arrangements for Israeli withdrawal and continuing security restrictions in the Sinai, and the nature of the peacetime relations between the two countries.
The broad outlines of both questions were decided by the top leaders of the two nations at Camp David. The present talks are to sketch the details and put them down in binding treaty language.
Each side is reported to have brought drafts of a proposed treaty, but administration officials said that neither side has shown its proposed document to the United States.
A more complicated set of issues surrounding the Blair House talks but not formally under negotiation involves the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the relationship of the proposed arrangements there to the Sinai deal between Egypt and Israel.
Egyptian acting Foreign Minister Boutrous Ghali, who, along with Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, was received at the White House late yesterday, was quoted in a Cairo interview as saying "there is a close link" between the Sinai arrangements and those on the West Bank.
He added, in a report in October magazine, that "there will be parallel negotiations" on the West Bank and that "implementation will also run parallel."
Israel takes the view that the proposed solution, or "frameworks," agreed on at Camp David for the Sinai and for the West Bank, respectively, stand on their own. A peace treaty with Egypt is a major objective for Israel, with potential benefits of historic proportions.
However, the negotiated changes on the West Bank-Gaza Strip involve more difficult problems of self-rule or withdrawal from a heavily populated heartland which many Israelis consider rightfully their own.
Carter's remarks today will be closely scrutinized by the two delegations as well as by leaders in the Arab world for additional clues to the United States position on the relation of the Sinai agreement to the planned process in the West Bank.
At his new conference Tuesday, Carter said the two problems were "not legally interconnected," but that they were "interrelated" in the minds of the major participants at Camp David.
Carter said he expects the Egyptian and Israeli delegations to discuss the future of the West Bank as well as the Sinai during their stay in Washington.
Administration officials anticipate that the West Bank talks will be mostly inside conversations between the delegations rather than in formal sessions.
One justification for holding the peace treaty negotiations in Washington is the accessibility of Carter, Vice President Mondale and the top echelon of the administration to break any deadlocks which may arise and to conduct side conversations on a broad range of matters, including the West Bank and future U.S. relationships of all kinds with Egypt and Israel.
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, who is the formal leader of the U.S. delegation to the talks, is scheduled to depart late tomorrow on important missions to South Africa, to discuss the future of Namibia, and Moscow, to negotiate outstanding issues of a strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT).
In his absence Medeast special negotiator Alfred L. Atherton and other State and Defense department officials will take part in the Blair House meetings.
The United States hopes to maintain a large degree of a secrecy on the day-to-day progress of the Blair House meetings, with a single "nonsubstantive" briefing held each day by a State Department information officer.
After initial meetings today and tomorrow, the talks will recess until Tuesday due to the Jewish sabbath Saturday and the Jewish Holiday of Succoth Monday. The negotiations are expected to run until the end of next week, at the minimum, and probably at least through most of the following week.
Each side has brought defense ministers and other military specialists to negotiate details of the withdrawal and demilitarization lines and phases and permanent security arrangements.
The foreign ministers and political specialists, possibly in a separate sub-committee, will consider the nature, timing and level of diplomatic, political and trade relations.
The conference opens the day after the Jewish holy of Yom Kippur, which was the occasion for the coordinated Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel just five years ago this month. The 1973 war threatened a superpower confrontation, ushered in an Arab oil embargo and the rise of Arab oil power and led to the alignment of Egypt with the United States as the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations undertook Arab-Israeli mediation culminating in the Camp David summit and the Blair House treaty-drafting conference.