Syrian officials received Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance here tonight with little ceremony and undisguised skepticism that Vance is bringing Middle East peace proposals they can accept.
Vance's meetings with Egyptian flexible in the past that Syria's President Hafez Assad.
If the U.S. proposals cannot win Sadat's support, these officials reason, there is little chance they can find favor here. An adviser to Assad pointed out that Vance's predecessor. Henry A. Kissinger, failed to persuade the Syrian president to participate in a Geneva peace conference late in 1973 despite the willingness of Isracl and other Arab states to meet.
The reason for Assad's refusal then--and his reason for probable refusal now -- was the exclusion of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
To stiffen Assad's posture. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat completed talks with the Syrian president only last night. Arafat left Damascus today for talks with Saudi Arabian leaders, whom Vance will see next week.
Vance will go to Amman. Jordan, Friday before visiting Saudi Arabia and Israel.
U.S. officials said they have not confirmed news reports from Beirut that Syria has signed an agreement with the PLO to support its full participation at Geneva. Whether or not any thing is in writing, however, American officials say that relations between Syria and the PLO have been repaired since their confrontation during the civil war in Lebanon, and cooperation now seems very close.
After last night's meeting between Assad and Arafat, Damascus Radio said the two leaders called for increasing "Arab aleriness in confronting hostile designs," obtaining total Isracli withdrawal from occupied Arab territory and sccuring palestinian rights.
During a four-hour stopover in Bcirut en route here from Egype. Vance reiterated that the problem of palestinian representation at Geneva is unsolved. He also said it is "too early to say" whether Syria and other confrontation states will accept Sadat's idea of a "working group" of Middle East foreign ministers to prepare for a new Geneva conference.
"I would stress this is up to the parties to decide whether they wish to do this," Vance said.
Sadat gave Vance no indication that his plan had been cleared with Assad. Reporters aboard Vance's plane were told that the "working group" might be a flexible thing, perhaps as informal as Vance's prospective shuttle between Israeli and Arab foreign ministers at the United Nations next month. Vance had planned to undertake such personal contacts in any case.
During the stopover in Beirut. Vance announced that the United States is prepared to provide $25 Million in foreign military credit sales to help rebuild lebanon's shattered national army, with an additional $75 million in sales in the next two years.
The military sales program has been discussed with members of Congress for more than a month, and some lawmakers who initially objected have withdrawn their opposition, at least for the first year.
The U.S. equipment is to supply a 3,000-man infantry force with light weapons and other gear, officials said. Israel has informed the United States that it does not object to the sale, since Israel prefers a revitalized lebanese army to either the palestinian commandos or Syrian forces that otherwise would exert control in the area bordering Israel.
News services reporter these other developments in the Middle East.
The French government granted permission to French companies to comply with the Arab boycott of business dealings with Israel.
The move brought an angry response from Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, who accused France of "a hostile act."
Isracli Energy Minister Yitzhak Moday said that if the United States refuses to sell Israel a nuclear reactor to generate electricity, Israel will buy one in Europe.
Syria's ruling National Progressive Front, led by the Arab Baath Socialst party, gained 35 seats in parliament, according to unofficial returns announced after the two-day election.