President Carter, responding to international pressure, is exploring the possibility of pledging at an economic summit conference next month that the United States will impose oil import quotas or fees if necessary to raise domestic oil prices.
The president raised the idea at a White House meeting yesterday with key congressional leaders, suggesting that pressure from abroad on the United States to show progress on an energy program may require him to make such a pledge when he meets with leaders of the principal European industrial powers and Japan in Bonn July 16-17.
A senior White House official said the congressional delegation generally supported the proposal but cautioned Carter to explore a broader range of congressional opinion before deciding to go ahead.
The official said the imposition of quotas or fees, which Carter has discussed before, would not come until the end of this year at the earliest, and then only if Congress fails to enact the administration's proposed crude oil equalization tax. That proposal, part of his omnibus energy program, is stalled in Congress.
Carter has used the threat of import quotas or fees to prod Congress on the energy package. Yesterday's meeting with members of the energy conference committee was in part another White House attempt to pressure Congress to enact the tax.
But if the president made a public pledge in Bonn, it would leave him little response if Congress balked.
The crude oil equalization, or wellhead, tax is the key component of the Carter energy plan and the only one of five major provisions of the energy legislation on which Congress has not reached tentative agreement. Prospects for its passage this year are considered dim and all but impossible before the economic summit.
The Bonn summit, Carter's second, will bring him together with the leaders of Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan.
Continued high U.S. oil imports, which have resulted in a trade imbalance and contributed to the decline in the value of the dollar, are of prime importance to U.S. allies. According to the White House officials, Germany and Japan have taken the lead in pressuring Carter to come to Bonn with some concrete evidence of American intentions to curb energy consumption.
Specifically, Germany and Japan seek a pledge from Carter to raise domestic U.S. oil prices to world levels by the end of 1980, the official said. He said the crude oil equalization tax would accomplish that objective, with the alternative being the imposition of import quotas or fees to do the same thing.
In return, the official said, the Germans and Japanese are prepared to pledge at Bonn an acceleration in their own economic expansion - which the United States is seeking to improve trade possibilities and overcome the effects of recession - while the other countries would promise not to erect restrictive trade barriers.
The official said the president described the pressure on him to meet the allies' demands as possibly holding "the key to a successful summit."
During the White House meeting, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) urged Carter to be sure he could sustain a veto of legislation stripping him of power to impose higher fees on imported oil before promising anything in Bonn.
"We will have to go through the exercise of checking with the Hill," one White House official said. "If it looks fairly decent up there, it would be advantageous to go ahead" with the plege.
Energy Secretary James B. Schlesinger reiterated the president's concern at a news conference.
"The American ability to discipline itself in energy matters is a very critical element in that summit," he said. "There is a very great pressure on all of us for the president to have something definite to present to other leaders to make that summit a success . . . It is plain that the reputation of the United States in relation to other countries is at stake."