The Arab world reacted with surprise and dismay yesterday to initial interpretation given to President Carter's remarks on the Middle East. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt voiced disappointment by saying, "He is making my job very difficult."
Senior American officials here were distressed by various news accounts portraying Carter's remarks about the Palestinian question during a televised conversation the night before as a sweeping endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin's peace plan.
The officials strongly contended that there has been no change in the U.S. position, that the President's comments should by no means be construed as a blanket endorsement of the Begin plan, and that the United States had no intention of getting behind either side's opening positions in the delicate Middle East negotiating process.
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, speaking to reporters aboard Carter's plane en route to Poland, described the Begin plan as "an appropriate starting point" for discussions.
The President was commending hoth sides for their courage and boldness in embarking on the road toward a peaceful settlement, the officials said, but "clearly they are going to have to be more flexible to go further."
By praising Begin's "flexibility" demonstrated over the past several weeks, Carter apparently sought to urge the Israeli leader to continue to move in the same direction in the unfolding negotiations with Egypt.
Carter, in his one-hour conversation with four television journalists, largerly restated his publicly enunciated position on a Middle East settlement. On the crucial Palestinian issue, Carter repeated that he favored a "homeland or an entity wherein the Palestinians can live in peace." He also reasserted that he was against the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
But Carter expanded his reasons on the latter position by saying that "my own personal opinion is that permanent peace can best be maintained if there is not a fairly radical, new independent nation in the heart of the Middle East."
He added: "Our preference is not to have an independent nation there, but we are perfectly willing to accept any reasonable solution that the parties themselves might evolve."
Apparently reacting to some initial interpretations that Carter was lopsidedly endorsing Begin, Sadat said in interviews with two American television networks yesterday that Carter's remarks would delay a Middle East settlement.
"For sure I am disappointed," Sadat told CBS News in Cairo. "For sure, because I should like that we put all our efforts toward ending the suffering in this problem, in the Middle East.
"This will postpone (the solution) for some time because we have to reopen the whole issue again."
"He is making my job very difficult," Sadat said, of Carter [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
The Palestine Liberation Organization in a statement issued in Beirut called Carter's opposition to the creation of an independent Palestinian state "an insult to the entire Arab nation" and hinted that the PLO might strike back with terrorism against U.S. interests in the Middle East.
In Israel, Begin expressed his satisfaction with Carter's remarks and his understanding of the "threat" an independent Palestinian state could constitute for Israel.
U.S. officials here recognize that Begin in order to gain domestic political support for his plan had felt the need to exaggerate the degree of U.S. support. In his speech in Israel's parliament Wednesday; Begin suggested that the Carter administration had endorsed his plan as "a fair basis" for negotiations.
In addition to Carter, Begin cited Vice President Mondale, Vance, national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and "the renowned, exalted and influential senators," Henry Jackson, Clifford Case, Jacob Javits and others as backing the plan.
But the basic American position, senior U.S. officials said yesterday, remained the same as stated on Dec. 17 when Carter expressed "appreciation" for Begin's "constructive approach," asserting that Begin and Sadat "together are taking important steps" toward comprehensive peace.
Meanwhile, the Jordanian government issued a statement yesterday rejecting Begin's plan because it did not contain a statement of intention to "effect complete withdrawal" from the occupied Arab territories.
The statement said that Israel has announced in a "frank, categorical and clear manner" that it wanted to keep the occupied Palestinian territories "to consolidate their occupation and to give this a legal character."
It said that "the most significant thing" about the Begin plan was that it came in response to Sadat's unprecedented initiative "and at a time when the entire world expects Israel to rise to the level of this initiative" by declaring readiness to withdraw from occupied lands "within the framework of the comprehensive settlement which the Arab parties have expressed readiness to achieve."
The Begin plan got a chilly reception among Arab leaders on the occupied West Bank of the Jordan. The mayors of Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah all insisted that there must be an end to Israeli military occupation of the area.
Lost in the exaggerated rhetoric of the past few days, however, was the serious efforts under way in Israel to find a solution to the thorny West Bank problem.
Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, in a speech Wednesday, provided a hint of the kind of internal debate over how to withdraw from the West Bank without endangering Israeli security.
"We must liberate ourselves from the situation in which we rule a population over one million people who do not want our rule and regard us as a foreign occupying power," Sayan said. "We must liberate ourselves, not them, from this situation which is undesirable and unnecessary."