Syria Intensifies Attack on Sadat While Keeping Its Options Open

publisher: The New York Times

AUTHOR: Marvine Howe

Publishing date: 1977-11-28


Syria intensified its campaign against the peace moves of President Anwar el‐Sadat of Egypt today but there were strong indications that it would not join the “rejection front” led by Libya that opposes any negotiated settlement in the Middle East.

Special to The New York Times

Syria will go to the meeting of hard‐line Arab leaders in Tripoli on Thursday not to join them but to discuss strategy to counter Mr. Sadat’s initiatives, several officials said privately.

“Refusal is not rejection,” a highly placed Government source said, meaning that Syria’s refusal to go along with Mr. Sadat was not a rejection of a political solution to the Middle East problem.

Syria cannot afford to rule out a negotiated settlement because such a stance could mean war, and Syria, on the front line, is not ready for it, according to authoritative sources. President Hafez alAssad, whose main power base lies in the military, knows this and will not lightly take the risk, these sources said.

Middle‐of‐the Road Stand

The Syrians therefore seem to have adopted a middle‐of‐the‐road position until the situation is clarified.

While publicly taking a hard‐line position, the Government has carefully maintained its options for a peaceful way out. It is felt in governing circles that if the Egyptian‐Israeli dialogue continues, either Israel will have to make major concessions or the Egyptians themselves will bring down the Sadat regime.

Meanwhile, the Syrians have urged Jordan and Lebanon as well as the. Palestine Liberation Movement to refuse Mr. Sadat’s invitation to a pre‐Geneva conference in Cairo on Saturday, official sources said.

Foreign Minister Abdel Halim Khaddam is scheduled to fly to Moscow tomorrow for talks with Soviet leaders. The Syrians were said to want to know what backing they could expect from the Soviet Union in moves to isolate Mr. Sadat.

Simultaneously, Syrian leaders made preparations for the Tripoli meeting. Foreign Minister Khaddam reported to a closed‐door meeting of the Syrian People’s Assembly on Mr. Sadat’s initiatives and possible measures to be taken, according to informed sources.

Earlier. President Assad met with Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has threatened to assassinate West Bank leaders who accept the Cairo invitation.

The Syrian press continued its campaign against the Egyptian leader, with Al Baatb, the organ of the ruling party, charging in a banner headline: “Sadat attacked Syria, insulted the Palestinians and praised Israel.”

Nevertheless, Syrians emphasized that they had not changed their fundamental position, which they said was to keep their diplomatic and political options open while building up military preparedness.

The Damascus radio denounced Mr. Sadat’s moves today as “a big sellout” but emphasized several times that Syria was not against peace.

Even the hard‐line Mr. Khaddam, who announced last night that Syria would not go to the Cairo conference, declared: “We have not said that we will not continue the dialogue with President Sadat but we have said that he took an isolated step without consulting other Arab countries.”