Two high-level State Department officials will travel to the Middle East this week in an effort to resolve some of the disagreement sblocking an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the department announced yesterday.
A spokesman, Tom Reston, said Alfred L. Atherton Jr., special ambassador for the Middle East, and Herbert J. Hansell, the department's legal adviser, will "seek to resolve remaining issues related to the taxt of the peace treaty."
If their efforts are successful, Reston added, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance then will reconvene ministerial-level talks aimed at overcoming the principal stumbling block in the four-month-old negotiations.
That involves Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's insistence that the treaty be accompanied by a timetable for carrying out separate negotiations on establishing Palestinian autonomy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel, while agreeing to negotiate the Palestinian question, has refused to accept either a timetable or target date for completing these talks. Failure to resolve that dispute caused the U.S. mediated peace treaty talks to break down during Vance's Middle East shuttle mission last month.
Since then, both sides have signalled their willingness to resume bargaining. But sources close to the talks say Vance is reluctant to formally reconvene ministerial-level negotiations until he is more confident there is a chance to break the impasse.
As part of that effort, the sources added, Atherton and Hansell will visit Cairo and Jerusalem to try and clear away some of the other issues that have produced disagreements but that are considered less difficult than the Palestinian link age question.
These involve Egypt's desire to change or clarify two articles of the U.S.-proposed treaty text that have been accepted by Israel. They cover the questions of future changes in the treaty and its primacy over Egypt's mutual defense pacts with other Arab states that might come into conflict with Israel.
Reston described the new assault on these issues as an attempt to "clear away some of the underbrush." By that, he meant the differing interpretations that have been put on the two disputed articles by the two sides.
He emphasized that Atherton and Hansell will not deal with the Palestinian autonomy question. Instead, he said, if they make progress toward disposing of the other problems the question of an accompanying letter on Palestinian autonomy will be reserved for new talks at the foreign-minister level.
He added that there is no indication when Vance will decide that the time has come to make a new try at such talks. The decision, he said, will depend on what happens while Atherton and Hanswell are in the Middle East.