President Carter said yesterday that he and the leaders of France, West Germany and Britain will hold an informal January meeting in Guadeloupe to discuss progress on a U.S.-Soviet strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT) and other issues of concern to the Western alliance.

The Caribbean summit, arranged by French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, will take place Jan. 5 and 6. Also attending will be West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and British Prime Minister James Callaghan.

At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Carter said, "It will be somewhat of a social affair, but we will be discussing substantive issues... I think we will just meet privately and discuss the broadest gamut of questions that affect us all."

The idea for the January meeting grew out of a similar get-together by the four leaders last July during the economic summit meeting in Bonn that also included Japan, Italy and Canada. In Paris, a spokesman for Giscard described the meeting's aim as a chance to look at "the state of the world at the end of 1978."

In order to keep the meeting as unstructured as possible, White House officials said, press coverage will be discouraged, and each leader will be limited to one aide of nonministerial rank. Accompanying Carter will be national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Except for continuing differences over economic and monetary issues, relations between Washington and its principal European allies have been very good during the past year. But as White House press secretary Jody Powell said yesterday, "That doesn't mean there aren't problems."

At the breakfast meeting, Carter said he particularly wants to brief the Europeans on what he called "steady progress" in the U.S.-Soviet SALT talks.

Last year there was concern, particulary in West Germany, about the United States negotiating over the heads of its allies and making a SALT agreement that might be harmful to West European security. More recently, the Carter administration has tried to ease these fears through frequent consultations with its principal North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners.

"I doubt if we will have a final agreement to go over with the other European leaders in Guadeloupe, but we will have the SALT proposals that we have in almost final -- our proposals, probably, in final form and an accurate description to the other leaders of the remaining differences, if any...," Carter said.

In private, some State Department sources said that, while such summit meetings as that scheduled for the French island are useful, they also contain the risk of a potentially negative effect -- that of causing resentment and annoyance among other U.S. allies.

In particular, the sources said, this risk applies to Washington's other major allies -- Canada, Italy and Japan -- and to the smaller NATO countries, which frequently are concerned that the bigger powers might make decisions on major alliance problems without giving them a say.