A majority of the 37-member House Committee on International Relations yesterday signed a resolution disapproving all of President Carter's controversial "package" of warplane sales to three Mideast countries.
If the 22 members who signed the resolution vote for it next week, the resolution will go to the House floor. But there were indications yesterday that the Carter administration can offer a compromise that would placate enough members to head off the resolution.
Compromise was the theme of many conversations on Capitol Hill yesterday about the fate of the "package" of warplane sales. Key senators' offices approached the administration with questions about possible compromises, and some important House members spoke openly on the same subject.
Compromise under discussion involve increasing the number of planes to be sold to Israel, decreasing the number to be sold to Saudi Arabia or putting some controls on the use of the Saudi planes.
As proposed by the administration, the sales would provide 60 F15 fighter-bombers to Saudi Arabia, 15 F15s and 73 F16s to Israel, and 50 F5Es to Egypt.
Israel and its American supporters have opposed the sale of the F15s to Saudi Arabia and complained about the size of the proposed sales to Israel, which are about half of what Israel asked for.
One obvious possible compromise would be a commitment from the Carter administration to provide Israel the other planes it sought immediately after the five-year period over which the sales now in question are to be made.
Administration sources expressed confidence yesterday that the 22 signatures on the resolution of disapproval in the House did not mean that even 20 members of the committee (a majority) would vote against all three sales when the committee acts, probably next week.
But Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), a sponsor of the resolution, said he thought a majority would vote to disapprove all the sales.
The signers of the resolution included several staunch supporters of Israel who - if they stick to this position - would end up voting against the expressed wishes of the Israeli government. Israeli officials have said that although they are unhappy with the package, they want their planes regardless of whether planes are sold to the Saudis and the Egyptians.
Some friends of Israel who oppose the sale to Saudi Arabia hope that a majority in the House and the Senate can be persuaded to support this blanket rejection of all the sales. Previously, the pro-Israeli lobby had hoped to win outright congressional rejection of the sale to (SECTION) audi Arabia, but this now appears impossible.
The idea of a blanket rejection of all three sales appeals to a number of senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, where sentiment against these transactions, particularly the Saudi one, has been strong.
But administration lobbyists remain confident that they have enough votes in the full Senate to block any resolution of disapproval, and the widespread talk of compromise from all sides of the issue suggested that others share the administration's assessment.
Rep. Edward J. Derwinski (R-Ill.), one signer of the resolution of disapproval filed yesterday in the House, said this new resolution was "not a confrontation" with the White House, but rather "a logical step in the process of negotiating out of an agreement" to "make some practical adjustments" to the package.
Several other members insisted they could not be assuaged with a compromise. An administration lobbyist said they had to say this, whether or not they meant it.
President Carter has telephoned about a dozen members of the House committee to lobby for all three sales.
The White House yesterday rejected a request from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to withdraw the proposed sales for 30 to 90 days to allow for further study of the issue.
Administration officials said Carter is anxious to avoid a showdown vote in either house of Congress, and hopes a face-saving compromise can be found to satisfy all concerned.
Administration officials said yesterday that the most significant next stage in U.S. Israeli relations will be on the diplomatic front rather than the arms sales controversy.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's talks Monday with Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, plus the unusual White House reception for American rabbis and other Jewish leaders, eliniated the bristling attitude that pervaded the last Begin-Carter encounter in March.
On the Israeli side, the improved climate is perceived as a result of the administration's recognition that its frontal attack on Begin's stand on Arab-Israeli peace terms proved counterproductive.
"Begin cannot change his policy under pressure," said one source3, and "attempts to brandish a stick at Israel to weaken him at home had just the opposite effect . . . Begin believes the White House recognized that that approach failed, and he now believes that the administration is returning to a more positive atmosphere. His mood is very upbeat."
Administration sources strongly disagree in private that this is what has occurred, but they have no interest in disputing the matter publicly. From their viewpoint, in March it was necessary to state differences clearly, with "no mincing of words," as one administration official put it privately.
"This had the salutary effect of making everyone think very hard" about the diplomatic realities, this source said.
As a result of talks with Begin and with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan last week, the United States is now "awaiting a response to several questions which are raised," State Department spokesman Hodding Carter said yesterday. Begin said this response will be made following a governmental policy review when he returns to Israel.
At the same time, "the Egyptians also will respond to a number of questions we posed," Hodding Carter said.
The core of these questions is whether Israel's spurned offer of local "self-rule" for Arab Palestinians on the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River, with a continuing Israeli military presence, can evolve to leave open an opportunity for genuine Palestinian "self-determination" after a five-year period.
At issue are such questions as how long Israeli troops would remain on the West Bank and methods for permitting the Palestinian Arabs to express their political aspirations.