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Sadat, Begin at odds on autonomy

Israel and Egypt have failed to reconcile their differences about Palestine autonomy in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank. After four days of discussions here between Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the chief progress to emerge was on bilateral relations between the two countries.

Thus, Egypt and Israel will go on tightening their newly forged bonds, inaugurating direct airline service by their respective national carriers (Egyptair and El Al) on or about Jan. 26, and establishing normal land and sea contact at the same time.

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The underlying concept behind these steps is that the benefits of trade, tourism, and cultural relations will create a greater tendency for future compromise and flexibility on complex political issues.

This attitude certainly seems to apply to President Sadat, whose attempt to break the prolonged deadlock at the ministerial level over Palestinian autonomy apparently was spurned by Prime Minister Begin. The Egyptian leader nevertheless preferred to go on with his conciliatory policy, rather than turn disagreement into potential confrontation.

"We have fields of agreement and also we have fields of differences," Mr. Sadat said at a joint news conference conducted on the tarmac of Aswan airport Jan. 10.

"I myself thought we can, in this visit, reach directives for our ministers, but still we have our differences on key issues."

Mr. sadat indicated that he still can afford to be patient, banking on the Camp David peace treaty's deadline on May 26 as sufficiently remote to allow for an ultimate meeting of minds -- even without a prospective appeal to the third Middle East peace partner, US President Carter, to act as a catalyst.

"For sure," Mr. Sadat went on, "I would have liked that we had made much progress, but we still have time -- we have another four months to agree on autonomy."

The Egyptian leader cited an equally complex problem -- Jerusalem -- saying that question also remains in dispute.

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Mr. Begin fielded an Egyptian woman journalist's query on whether another summit with Mr. Carter may be the only alternative, explaining that "We never had any hint from the President of the US that he is preparing an invitation. Maybe it will come."

He added: "I think I can say with the agreement of the President [Sadat] that we would accept [such an invitation].

"However, we hope that we shall solve with our endeavors the problems and the outstanding issues, and so we intend to do."


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