Doubt and confusion prevailed in Cairo today after the abrupt suspension of peace negotiations with Israel. Even members of the Egyptian negotiating team said they did not know what would happen next.
But there appeared to be one certainty - the Americans have the ball, or at least President Anwar Sadat is trying to give it to them.
Boutros Ghali, minister of state for foreign affairs, who returned from Jerusalem early today with the rest of the Egyptian delegation, said that the question now is, "Are the Americans in a position to give something more? have they the will, have they the capacity?"
U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who is due here for talks with Sadat on Friday, is likely to find the Egyptians chagrined and disillusioned by Israel's refusal to move toward even the minimum peace terms Sadat could accept. If the peace process, to use Sadat's favorite term, is going to continue, the Egyptians feel it is up to the US to provide the impetus.
Vance may find that the Egyptians are almost as exasperated with the US as they are with Israel. He is expected to face some blunt question such as, for example, why, if President Carter believes the Israeli settlements in the occupied Sinai are illegal, the US lets Israel argue that it must keep troops there to defend them.
Sadat met today with Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel, who is the head of the negotiating team, and with Vice President Hosny Mobarak and Prime Minister Mamdouth Salem, preparing for the meeting with Vance and the address he is to deliver to the Egyptian Parliament Saturday.
After conferring with his aides, Sadat issued a statement that said: "It has become clear that the Israeli position is pushing the peace efforts to a dead end."
Personal friends of the president who have seen him since he recalled the delegation from Israel say he is in good spirits and that there is no substance to persistent rumors that he is contemplating resignation because he feels his peace initiative has failed.
Egyptian officials, while admitting that they have no idea what Sadat will say Saturday, said the peace negotiations have only been interrupted, not abandoned, and that there is still hope for progress if the Americans can be persuaded to lean on the Israelis.
But even if the negotiating process is still alive, Egyptian officials, experienced diplomats and other observers agree that Sadat's position has eroded considerably since the peace initiative moved from theatrics into substance and the Israelis showed they were not going to play by Sadat's rules.
Their collective assessment of Sadat's position is this. He has regained the initiative by his latest surprise move, and he has probably scored some success in his camapign to convince world opinion that it is Israel, not Egypt, that is being inflexible.
Against those modest gains are these deficits.
He has bestowed recognition and acceptance on the Israeli without getting in return any terms for peace that were not already on record even before he went to Jerusalem.
He has led his people to expect peace, and the prosperity they believe would follow it, and is now living with fluctuating popular emotions that could be dangerous.
He has lost ground in his attempt to gain support from other Arab leaders because of the unexpected impasse over the Israeli settlements in the Sinai. He expected to be able to say, in fact he did say, that Israel was agreeable to a complete withdrawal from the Sinai and was demanding more than that on behalf of the other Arabs. The validity of that argument is now in question.
He has already played perhaps his strongest card in the peace talks - the threat to scrap them - without any assurance that his ploy will succeed.
Sadat courted American support and U.S. public opinion by squeezing the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Soviet Union out of the peace negotiations, believing that this would lead Carter to translate words into action. The view here is that it did not.
The night before flyig to Jerusal for the negotiations, Foreign Minister Kamel asked a friend, "If the U.S. doesn't move now, then when?'
What the Egyptians would like was reflected in the news broadcasts on Cairo radio today that quoted former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as saying the United States should play a more active role in persuading the Israelis, and "sources in Washington" as saying Carter had given Vance a "free hand" to put pressure on Israel.
The cumulative effect is to make it appear that Sadat was right when he said, as he often did before his trip to Jerusalem, that the United States lem for the negotiations, Foreign negotiations.
The official Midlde East News Agency tonight published the text of a proposed five-point declaration of principles for peace that the Egyptian delegation offered on the first day of the jerusalem talks. It contained no surprises.
Egypt offered to respect the sovereignty and independence of Israel and to recognize the need to "guarantee the safety of the lands and the political independence of each state in the region through measures to be agreed upon by the parties concerned."
In exchange, Israel was called upon to withdraw from all lands occupied in the 1967 war and recognize the Palestinians' "right of self-determination through negotiations in which Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the representatives of the Palestinian people will participate."