SharonDefense Minister Ariel Sharon left for Cairo today for a four-day official visit during which he will confer with Egypt’s Defense Minister and possibly with President Hosni Mubarak. Aides said that final arrangements have not been made yet.

Prior to his departure Sharon said the Egyptians would be mistaken if they believed they could gain more by delaying an agreement on autonomy until Israel completes is withdrawal from Sinai next April. But the autonomy negotiations are hanging fire until Secretary of State Alexander Haig returns to the region, probably after his meetings with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Geneva late this month.

Haig, who returned to Washington Friday after a 28-hour visit to Israel, told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport that he would assess the positions of both Israel and Egypt, as presented to him by their leaders last week, compare and analyze them, and probably return at the end of the month with ideas and suggestions of his own. But he stressed that this would be “as partners” in the autonomy negotiations.

Haig stressed also that his four-day Middle East trip had been a “fact-finding” mission during which he discussed global, regional and bilateral problems, although his focus was on autonomy and the Israeli-Egyptian peace process. He declined to say which side he thought should make concessions. Rather than concessions by either side, it is more “a question of mutual ingenuity to bridge the gap,” Haig said. He acknowledged that the differences were deep but said he was sure they could be overcome.

Issue Of Dismantling Structures

One Israeli-Egyptian difference that Sharon said he would raise in Cairo was the question of allowing Israeli personnel to remain in Sinai after the April withdrawal deadline to complete the dismantling and removal of the structures and equipment. The Defense Minister told reporters he would “propose” this, “but I won’t beg for it.” He said “if the Egyptians agree to my proposals, well and good. If not, we shall remove everything before we leave.”

Egyptian officials said last week that not a single Israeli would be allowed to remain in Sinai after Israel’s official departure. But the Jerusalem Post reported last Wednesday that a secret agreement reached between the two countries would allow Israel to remove all structures and facilities from Yamit and other northern Sinai settlements after the final withdrawal date. This, apparently, is necessary because some settlers and militant squatters in the region have succeeded in blocking the dismantling process for the time being.

The government acquiesced to their demands in order to avoid a confrontation that could result in violence. Israel is determined, nevertheless, to remove every structure and facility that can be dismantled and transported from northern Sinai. One reason is that to leave it behind would facilitate the resettlement of Egyptians closest to Israel’s border and Israel does not want a large Egyptian population in that vicinity.

Concerned By Hassan Ali’s Statement

On the other hand, Israel is leaving behind structures and equipment in southern Sinai which will be sold to the Egyptians. The Israelis are, nevertheless, concerned by Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali’s statement last Friday that Egyptian forces would patrol the islands of Tiran and Sinafir in the Straits of Tiran after the Israelis pull out. The islands, commanding access to the Gulf of Aqaba and Israel’s part of Eilat, were ceded to Egypt by Saudi Arabia before Israel captured them in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Israelis fear the Saudis will now seek their return and insist that the islands be patroled by the Sinai international peacekeeping force to guarantee against that. Hassan Ali said that the status of the islands and the straits were clearly defined in the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979. The treaty states that the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) would be stationed on the Sinai mainland, the precise locations of which would be determined after consultations with Egypt.

Clarifying Veliotes’ Visit

In another development, the State Department denied on Friday that Nicholas Veliotes, one of Haig’s senior aides, was trying to persuade King Hussein of Jordan to join the Egyptian-Israeli peace process. Veliotes, who is Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs and a former Ambassador to Jordan, went to Amman after Haig left the Middle East.

State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg said Friday that he “is not going (there) to enlist their support” in the autonomy talks. He said Veliotes was using his presence in the Middle East to visit Amman to discuss bilateral issues. He could not say whether Veliotes would visit any other country in the region.