Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu met with President Carter at the White House yesterday to warn that the world faces "severe consequences" if efforts to achieve a Middle East peace settlement fail.
In his remarks during the welcoming ceremonies, Ceausescu said an equitable settlement must include withdrawal of Israeli forces from all Arab lands occupied in 1967, creation of an independent Palestinian state and guarantees for the integrity of all nations in the region.
His comments provoked special interest because Romania has ties to both Israel and the Arab states that, in the past, have enabled Ceausescu to play a middleman role in the Middle East. He helped to arrange last year's meeting between Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
But, while the Middle East was among the main topics of Ceausescu's 90-minute meeting with Carter, U.S. officials said the talks involved general exchange of views and did not include discussion of any specific Middle East peace plan.
Reports from the Middle East in recent days have said that Ceausescu had given Sadat a proposal for resuming the Middle East talks with the participation of the Palestine Liberation Organization. These reports have been denied by Egyptian government sources.
Despite a mutual interest in the Middle East, U.S. sources said, the main purpose of Ceausescu's visit is to keep open the lines that have given Romania a special relationship with the United States.
Although Ceausescu is making his fourth state visit to Washington, it is the first since Carter took office.
Romania is unique among the Soviet Union's communist allies in the East European Warsaw Pact because it has followed a frequently independent course in foreign policy. It is the only Warsaw Pact country to have diplomatic relations with Israel, and it has pursued friendly ties with both the West and Moscow's adversaries in China.
Among the benefits of that policy have been Washington's granting of most-favored-nation tariff status to Romania - a position that has increased trade tenfold between the two countries in the last decade. Ceausescu, U.S. sources said, is keenly interested in having that status renewed.
If there is a potential cloud over the visit, it involves Romania's record on internal human rights. In contrast to his liberal foreign policy, Ceausescu has been accused frequently of keeping a tight, often repressive rein on dissent within Romania.
Carter recently received a letter from 66 members of Congress who expressed concern about apparent restricitions on emigration of Romanian Jews to Israel. It called on Carter to confront his vistor "candidly and forcefully" on human rights questions.
However, such issues were glossed over at yesterday's meeting, where Carter praised Ceausescu as "a great leader of a great country." A white House spokesman, Jerrold Schechter, said the human rights question was not discussed at yesterday's meeting, but Schechter added that it could come up at later discussions.
In greeting Ceausescu, Carter caused a brief flurry of excitement when, in talking about Sadat's Israel visit, he described Jersualem as the capital of Israel. The United States does not regard the city as having that status and maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.
The White House later rushed out a statement acknowledging that the president had made a slip of the tongue. It carefully reiterated the long-standing U.S. position that Jerusalem's status should be decided in a peace settlement between Israel and the Arab countries.