Administration officials asked yesterday for "understanding" abroad as they went through the awkward business of formally announcing the postponement of President Carter's trip to four continents starting Nov. 22.
There is no descreet way to put off a 25,000-mile whirlwind trip to nine nations in 12 days that disrupts the personal schedules of heads of governments and elaborate national ceremony and security arrangements. No American government ever has faced that embarrasing task before.
The official postponenment was handled in as low as key as possible, not by the White House, which announced the trip on Sept 22, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in a statement to the press issued by Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance.
Vance said in the statement that, over the weekend, chiefs of governments were notified that Carter "would postpone his trip because of the need to remain in Washington during congressional consideration of the administration's energy program."
The trip, originally planned between Nov. 22 and Dec. 2, but with an extra day intended to be added, is still desire by the President at "a mutually convenient date. . . in the near future." foreign governments were told.
Carter, Vance said , explained to the foreign leaders that "his personal involvement vital" for passage of the energy program. The program, Vance said, is considered by the President to be "crucial to the overall health of the American economy and of great importance to all energy producing and energy-consuming nations."
"The reaction so far," Vance said later yesterday at the Capitol, "has been one of hope on the part of the various nations involved that we will be able to reschedule the trip in the near future. .."
A rumple of critism, however, also is developing in some of the world's press, with complaints that the long dangling plans only reinforce the "amateurish" or "capricious" nature of the new administration's foreign policy.
The President was scheduled to visit Venezuela, Brazil, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia (added to the original itinerary), India, Iran, Poland, Belgium and France.
The governmnet spent a substantial amount on planning for the trip. For example, a large so-called "preadvance" party - made up of officials of various agencies involved in any presidential trip - left Washinton Oct. 24 on a government plane to visit each of the nine countries on the President's itinerary. The party returned last night after making the 25,000-mile journey that Carter was to take.
Some American diplomats, critical from the outset of what they regarded as a hogepodge, "theme-less trip" originated in the White House, were privately pleased by the postponement. Others expressed concern about the damage that could be caused by putting a pricrity on domestic interests over foreign considerations.
In official cables back to Washington, said one souece "Of course everybody says "we understand" - that's the diplomatic thing to do."
White House press secretary Jody Powell told reporters. "Obviously there was some dissappointment that the trip will not go forward as scheduled. But there is a recognition and a sharing of concern that the national energy plan go forward."
Postponing such a trip "is unfortunate," Powell said, "but we have made our priorities quite clear," Carter said in recent that he might have to postpone the trip because of the delay in completing the energy bill, and Powell said a failure to enact that legislation "could only contribute to international pessimism."
Putting off the trip, Powell noted, "unfortunately" will preclude one of its purposes - a presidential consultation with some leaders of oil-producing countries before the Origanization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meet Dec. 20 in Venzuela to consider a possible price rise.
The State Department said Vance will proceed with his own plan to visit Argentina on Nov. 20. Vance had intended to go from Argentina to Venezuela to join the carter trip.
Powell said it is "premature" to indicate when the Carter trip may be rescheduled, but it is postponed "until a date after Christmas," Administration official, are considering several alternatives. One is to reschedule the trip for trip late December-early January, before the next session of Congress' begins on Jan. 19.
That alternatives, however, can encounter holiday schedule obstacles in many nations officials noted.
Othe posibilities under study are to put the trip until February, to divide it into an early trip to Europe and a later trip to other nations, or to curtail the number of the nations to be visited.
Carter himself, and national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, were very anxiuos to try to avoid postponing the trip, recognizing the critism that would be evoked about indecisiveness in the White House. The President's political advisers, however, feared he could be left in a worse position if he were abroad on a controversial trip while his prime domestic program was being disembowcled.
Press critism is now coming even from nations not involved in the trip. West Germany's conservative newspaper. Dle Welt in Bonn, said, "The reponen that his foreign policy has an amateurish trend will become touder now. It is breal of all rules of international courtesy to cancel a visit on two week's notice to other governmnets which have made their preparations."
Another newspaper in the same nation, the Frankfutter Allgemeinc, of Frankfurt, said: "The reasons why President Carter canceled" his trip "are better than those which made him decide to plan the trip," but "his prestige, the confidence in the retiability of his judgement are bound to suffer - at least for time being.