President Carter will carry proposals to the Camp David summit on the Middle East that include establishing an American air base in the Sinai peninsula and posting U.S. troops on the West Bank if these steps are needed to breaka negiotating deadlock, sources said yesterday.
While Carter reportedly hopes such steps will not be needed, he has already explored with congressional leaders the idea of significantly expanding the American presence interposed between Arab and Israeli forces.
Carter will play host to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at Camp David for discussions that begin Sept.6 one day later than originally scheduled. Sadat will stop off in Paris Sept.4 to meet President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, diplomatic sources reported yesterday.
The Camp David talks are expected to continue into the following week, Begin told Israeli reporters Sunday.
The idea of replacing the Israeli troops that occupy the West Bank of the Jordan River with U.S. forces was originally floated by the Carter administration in March, when Beginand Carter clashed in Washington over Israeli security needs.
It was quickly shelved then, but the calling of the summit has caused Carter's Middle East experts to revive it as long-shot possibility among the detailed suggestions that he will carry to Camp David.
Israel traditionally has opposed foreign military presences in the region, while Sadat has called for binding American security guarantees for Israel if they would lead to total Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories of the Sinai, West Bank and Gaza Strip and Golan Heights occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The White House has imposed tight secrecy on its preparations for the summit. Administration officialsdeclined to comment publicly, but said privately that the U.S. military presidence idea would not be "the focus" of American efforts at Camp David.
Begin's government has indicated that it is prepared to give back all of the Sinai to Egypt in return for a final peace agreement, but is concerned about giving up control over a large air base it has established there.
Turning the base over to American control while Egypt regains sovereignty over the land appears to be one suggestion that could come up as a way to reassure Israeli security concerns.
Stationing a small American contingent of troops on the West Bank, which has been the scene of terrorism and Arab protests against Israeli occupation, would be a far more controversial step and has been the subject of private explorations by the administration.
The idea was presented in an indirect and informal way to Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan last spring by Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, according to sources. Begin told a news conference at the close of his visit in March that Israel did not "want even one American soldier to fight our battles."
But shortly before the White House announced on Aug. 8 that Begin and Sadat had accepted invitations to the summit. Carter, touched on the concept with a group of congressional leaders at a White House briefing.
Carter's approach was so vague that there was no discernible reaction from the group, according to one source present. Vance, in an equally elliptical reference, also told the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee in a secret session the following week that the administration was not ruling out such an idea if it would bring peace.