Secretary of State Cyrus Vance ended his five-day trip to sell the Arabs on the Camp David accords with an inconclusive 4 1/2-hour meeting here yesterday with Syrian President Hafez Assad, who has been designated by militant Arabs to lead their campaign against the pact.
Neither man changed the other's views, sources said, but the conversation was amicable.
Only a few hours before, Assad has denounced Camp David as "the summit of surrender" in an address to the "Front of Steadfastners and Confrontation" comprising Syria, Algeria, Libya, South Yemen and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Front declared the United States to be "an enemy" and named Assad to make its case for support to fellow Arab nations and to the Soviet Union.
"I don't expect him [Assad] to change his views at this point," an "American senior official" aboard the secretary of state's airplane told reporters after the meeting. But he expressed satisfaction at being able to answer Assad's questions and said from every indication U.S.-Syrian relations will continue on a businesslike basis.
As Vance's U.S. Air Force jet landed and taxied to a far corner of the airport yesterday morning, white-jacketed honor guards in full-dress ceremonial trappings were waiting at the main entrance for the farewell ceremony for one of the conference participants, Libya leader Muammar Qaddafi.
On the airport road the arriving American diplomats, expousing the Camp David agreement, passed the Libyan leader, who had condemned the accord. Qaddafi was riding in a far more impressive outbound motorcade accompanied by their mutual host, Assad.
The Vance-Assad meeting, which was postponed for a day at Syrian request due to the meeting of militant Arab leaders here, ran twice as long as originally scheduled. Vance sought to persuade Assad as he had moderate leaders in Jordan and Saudi Arabia that the Camp David plans for the West Bank differs importantly from the "selfish-rule" plan proposed last December by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Vance continued to take the view that the Camp David accords will not be amended to meet Arab demands, and that Israelis and West Bank Palestinians living and working together will create agreement despite the long antipathy of the past.
As to his meeting with the Syrian leader, the last of his three-nation tour which began Tuesday evening, Vance said he had been asked "serious hard questions" by Arab leaders.
"My own feeling is that we were able to give to the questions sound answers," he said "I still feel as I did when I left the United States that the framework that we agreed upon (at Camp David) provides the basis for a real peace in the Middle East."
A Syrian government communique said Assad told Vance that Syria completely opposes the results of the Camp David summit, UPI repoted.
["President Assad explained to Vance that it is Syria's firm opinion that what happened in Camp David works only for the benefit of Israel," the statement said. "Camp David gave Israel everything it wanted. It goes against basic Arab rights, especially the rights of the Palestinians to an independent nation, to sovereignty in their own land."]
Among more moderate Arab countries, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are reported to remain unenthusiastic about the Camp David agreements. But more than Jordan, Saudi Arabia has Iceway to make relatively independent judgment of its own.
Mindful of Saudi opposition to a separate Egyptian Israeli deal and of the great importance of Saudi Arabia in the councils and financial balance sheets of other Arab countries and of the PLO, the United States dispatched a message about Camp David in the name of President Carter to Saudi leaders within a few hours of the summit meeting's conclusion.
The Saudis already had heard the news through press reports and a flurry of telephone calls from other Arab leaders. When U.S. diplomats is Riyadh attempted to deliver the presidential message, they encounted a series of excuses and delays. Despite appeals all the way to the top, Saudi officialdom would not accept the Carter cable until after a Tuesday night statement, adopted by the Saudi Cabinet, which bluntly criticized the Camp David results.
Saudi officials sent word in advance that the statement would be "balanced." It praised Carter for trying but said that the Camp David summit result "cannot be considered a final acceptable formula for peace" because it did not commit Israel to withdraw from all occupied Arab territory, including East Jerusalem, did not provide self-determined for Palestinians and ignored the PLO.
A critical paragraph said that despite the reservation about Camp David, Saudi Arabia did not claim the right to interfere in the private affairs of any Arab country (meaning Egypt), nor dispute its right to regain its territory from Israel in any way. This has been taken to mean that Saudi Arabia will continue to support Egypt economically even while opposing some aspects of its foreign policy toward Israel and the Arab world.
According to U.S. officials, the Saudis gave Vance every reason to believe that aid to Egypt will continue.Vance was said to view with skepticism reports that the Saudis plan to cut off more than $1 billion in military aid to Egypt.
Vance departed on his trip less than 48 hours after the announcement of the Camp David results, in the full bloom of the general American euphoria that Middle East peace was within reach.
Vance was ebullient as he flew east, radiating confidence that the peace process was under way and that other Arab leaders would have no choice but to join it or lose the chance to exert their influence on a dynamic movement.
Day by day and country by country, the bright prospects and some of the secretary's high spirits drained away. The dominant reaction in the Arab states he visited was not enthusiasm or even understanding, but deep apprehension mixed with frustration and anger.
Moderate as well as militant Arabs, and especially the stateless Palestinians who are influential figures in almost ever Arab country, made clear that they saw Camp David not as progress toward a general peace, but as a sudden lurch toward an Egyptian-Israli bilateral peace at the expense of the Arab bloc. Both the United States and Egypt previously had ruled out such a separate peace.
Jordan's King Hussein had been sharply critical of portions of the Camp David accords in a statement issued as Vance was preparing to leave Washington. He emphasized then and twice more as the week went on that he had not been consulted in the Camp David dealings, despite the important and perhaps crucial role for Jordan written into the framework agreement for the West Bank.
As Vance headed overseas word was out that he intended to lean hard on Hussein, and that over-all U.S-Jordanian relations could be affected. Carter, back in Washington, said Vance was urging Hussein "in the strongest possible way" to join the West Bank negotiations.
U.S. aid is important to Jordan, a buffer state which derives more than half its government budget from outside sources. But aid from fellow Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, is even more important, and Hussein, regardless of his Western connections, lives in the Arab world. Whatever the pressure on him there was no indication during or after the talks with Vance that he is leaning towards accepting the roles assigned to him at Camp David.
The most that American officials could say, in the face of repeated criticism from Hussein, was that the statements were "carefully crafted" and did not close the door on later cooperation.
By the end of the week, Vance was notably less certain in talks with reporters than at the outset that the West Bank arrangements could proceed successfully without Jordanian participation.