Vere Harmsworth, the wealthy European publisher who purchased Esquire magazine last year, is negotiating to buy the week-old New York Trib, according to sources close to the discussions.

The Trib began publishing last Monday and, except for Tuesday when there were some labor problems, has sold about 200,000 copies a day.

But sources at the Trib say publisher Leonard Saffir has been attempting to attract new financing for the fledgling tabloid.

Reached by telephone in New York, Saffir would neither confirm nor deny the reports of negotiations, saying only, "We are still solvent."

The talks apparently are deadlocked over the issue of control, according to the sources. Harmsworth wants 51 per cent of the Trib, and resultant editorial and business control. He reportedly has a team of editorial and production people standing by in New York, ready to take over the paper if the deal goes through. Heading the team is David English, a former editor on the defunct New York Herald Tribune, and now editor of Harmsworth's London papers, the Daily Mail and Evening News.

While talks are to continue over the weekend, several informed sources say the deal is likely to fall through because of Saffir's desire to maintain control over his newspaper. He recently told a reporter, "I'm not going to make the same mistake Clay Felker did." Saffir has not revealed who the "15 investers" are that he claimes have financed the newspaper so far.

Felker, who now works for Harmsworth as the new editor of Esquire, lost a bitter struggle more than a year ago to maintain control over New York Magazine. Australian publisher Rupert Murdoch finally wrestled control of that magazine, as well as the Village Voice and New West Magazine, from Felker.

Ironically, Harmsworth has mentioned Felker's name in the negotiations, and the sources say Felker "stands ready to step in and help," if Harmsworth does buy the publication.

Felker, too, would not comment on the developments. "I'm too busy trying to get out my first issue of Esquire," he said.

Harmsworth has said he wants to buy newspapers in the United States, and, according to reports, would relish the competition in New York with Murdoch, who last year bought the afternoon New York Post.

Murdoch owns about 90 newspapers in England and Australia, and competes with Harmsworth in London.