The Carter administration called yesterday for "evidence of tangilble progress toward peace" from "leaders of vision in the Middle East" to "build on" Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's initiative in Israel.
This strongly indicated that the private talks between Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin last weekend did not produce enough movement for a Geneva conference on the Mideast, at least by U.S. judgement. Reports from Israel and Egypt indicate the same conclusion.
That was the implication behind a call for new action sounded by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher in a San Francisco speech yesterday. State Department officials said the Christopher speech, and private message by Carter to Arab and Israeli leaders, are a concerted attempt to pierce the barriers still impeding a Geneva conference.
Christopher, making the first comprehensive. American speech on the Middle East since Sadat's venture into Israel, lauded "this initiative as a beginning," a "new ingredient" in "the peace process."
President Carter "does not intend to miss this moment," Christopher said. "He intends to build on the momentum of this weekend to help move toward the goal we share with Arabs and Israel alike - a just and lasting peace in the Middle East."
Christopher, acting Secretary of State while Cyrus R. Vance is in South America, was addressing 4,000 delegates of Reform Judaism's Union of American Hebrew Congregations convention in San Francisco.
His call for "evidence of tangible progress toward peace" was directed in part at Israel, administration sources said, but also to Arab nations beyond Egypt - and Particularly to the Soviet Union as well.
The Soviet Union backed extremist Arabs in criticizing Sadat's unprecedented trip to Israel. The Carter administration has told the Soviet Union, privately and publicly, that it is displeased with that attitude.
Christopher yesterday defended the Carter administration's decision to join with the Soviet Union in an Oct. 1 statement of guidelines for a reconvened Geneva conference on the Middle East. That statement was assailed by Israel for bringing the Soviet Union back into Middle East diplomacy at this stage Egypt's Sadat also has said that "when we arrive in Geneva, it is certain that my relations with the Soviet Union will be tense" because of his strained ties with the Kremlin.
As a co-chairman of the Geneva conference along with the United States, the Soviet Union has an inescapable role to play - "a constructive role or a troublesome role," Christopher said.
The United States, he said, does "not take lightly the Soviet commitments implied" in the Oct. 1 joint statement to act constructively and responsibly "to help negotiations for a Middle East settlement to move forward."
"Just as we cannot avoid the reality of Soviet interest and participation" in a Geneva conference, Christopher said, ""we cannot avoid the Palestinian question - not if we want a real chance for peace."
The form of Palestinian Arab representation in an Arab delegation is the key obstacleto reconvening the Geneva conference. This was a central issue in the private talks between Sadat and Begin.
Sadat did not mention the Palstine Liberation Organization, which Israel refuses to deal with, in his speech Sunday to the Israeli parliment. But sadat said "the palestinian cause" is "the crux of the problem." He called for "a Palestinian state,"which Israel adamantly rejects.
Israel has agreed to Palestinian representatives in a Geneva conference provided that they are not identifiable as representatives of the PLO. The question is how to deal with, or circunvent, this barrier and it is nuclear if any advance was made in the Sadat-Begin talks.
Christopher repeated yesterday that President Carter "has endorsed the concept of a Palestinian homeland or entity," but has said "the United States does not prfer an independent Palestinian state . . ." Instead, Christopher noted. "our preference would be for such an entity to be linked with Jordan."
Egypt is prepared for some flexibility on the Palestinian representation issue, as Sadat's ommission of mention of the PLO indicated. But the Palestinian issue by no means only up to Israel and Egypt to resolve. Even more important, on the Arab side, is the attitude of other nations, notably Ssudi Arabia and Syria, along with Jordan and others.
Christopher, without going into those specifies, said the sadat-Begin discussions now "must be nourished by evidence of tangible progress toward peace . . . to overcome the doubters, the cynics, those who remain prisoners of the past, and the opponents of peace who unhappily are still a force in the Middle East."
Sadat, he said, deserves "praise and respect for his courage" in breaking through "the psychological barrier of distrust and suspicion" and Begin "demonstrated his statesmanship" in welcoming Sadat warmly. Now, said Christopher, "with all our hearts, we must pray that the opportunities presented are not lost."