President Carter said last night that Israeli Prime Minster Menahem Begin has taken "a long step forward" in offering self-rule for Palestinian Arabs residing on the West bank of the Jordan River.
In a televised interview on the eve of his six-nation nine-day tour, the President disagreed with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's call for an independent Palestinian state. Carter indicated that he thought such a state would jeopardize Israeli security.
Carter described as "a realistic negotiating position" Begin's insistence on maintaining an Israeli troop pressence on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
on the question of U.S. security guarantees for Isreal, the President said that some Arab leaders have expressed to him privately that "if a guarantee arrangement between the United States and Israel can be worked out it would be acceptable."
Carter added that he preferred that U.S. involvment in post-settlement security be minimal.
Israel has been cool to the idea of such a relationship with the United States on grounds that it should not rely on outside powers for its security. But Begin has not ruled out that possibility entirely.
Carter postponed his trip abroad once before, deciding to stay home in November in hopes of seeing his energy bill passed. The bill still has not passed Congress, but Carter said energy would be a major topic of discussion during his trip.
A last-minute addition to his trip was scheduled meeting with King Hussein of Jordan over the New Year's weekend.
Carter said he would try to find out in his talks "what role Jordan is willing to play" in Mideast peace discussions.
Outling his position on the key question of a Palestinian homeland, Carter said he favors "an entity wherein the Palestinians can live in peace."
"I think Prime Minister Begin has taken a long step forward in offering the President Sadat, and indirectly to the Palestinians, self-rule," Carter said.
"President Sadat, so far, is insisting that the so-called Palestinian entity be an independent nation. My own preference is that they not be an independent nation, but be tied in some way with the surrounding countries - make it a choice, perhaps, between Israel and Jordan."
"President Sadat has not yet agreed to that," Carter said.
Carter said he opposed the creation of a Palestinian state because it would create a "radical" new nation in the already unstable Middle East.
Carter said he looks forward to constructive discussions in each of the five nations he will visit.
On other matter, Carter said:
He made his decision, announced earlier in the day, not to reappoint Arthur F. Burn as head of the Federal Reserve System because "it is important to change from time to time." He said there was nothing personal in his decision.
There's no doubt that wherever I go in this trip . . . what our nation does about energy will be a prime question."
His top priorities in the coming year will be worked on the economy, an energy program, and the introduction of a national health program. Resolution of the Panama Canal question - completion of the energy legislation he sent to Congress last spring "is the first specific thing we will do," Carter said.
"One of the most difficult political questions we will have to deal with" is the Senate ratification of the new Panama Canal treaties. He added, "I think we will get the votes in the Senate," but said he could not say definitely how to vote would stack up today.
The advantages of the tax cuts he envisions "will exceed any tax burdens" added from Social Security and energy legislation, at least through 1979.
On being reminded of a campign promise to balan ce the budget by 1981, "obviouly, I cannot guarantee that . . . It depends on how fast business invests . . . how many people are at work." He said he could not have suggested a tax cut if he had "an absolutely rigid fixation on balancing the budget."
Voiced his pleasure with several parts of the economy, saying unemployment is down from 8 per cent; new jobs totaled 8 million, bringing the work force to 92 million, and inflation is at a rate of less than 5 per cent in the latter jhalf of this year. But, he said, "Obviously, we need some economic stimulus next year."