Secretary of State Cyrus Vance returned home last night without visible results in a Christmas Eve effort to restart the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations for peace in the Middle East.
Vance, in a statement made in a driving rain at Andrews Air Force Base, descirbed his meetings with senior Egyptian and Israeli officials in Brussels earlier in the day as "helpful."
In an effort to rebut news agency stories that he had failed in his task, he said: "Our purpose was to explore the nature of the next steps to be taken in the negotiations and not to set a date for the resumption of negotiations."
Vance, who had gone to Brussels fresh from inconclusive talks in Geneva with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrew Gromyko, on strategic arms curbs, met for three hours yesterday morning in the Belgian capital with Egyptian Prime Minister Musptapha Khalil and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan.
Flanked by the two ministers, he read an uncommunicative statement in Brussels which said Khalil and Dayan would report to the heads of their governments and be in touch with Washington about the next steps.
All three men agreed to say nothing publicly about the substance of their discussion. They refused to answer questions from reporters on the spot, and Vance later declined to reveal anything about their conversations.
In Jerusalem, the Israeli Cabinet met to hear a preliminary report on the Brussels meeting, and Israeli sources said a special Cabinet session later in the week would hear Dayan's full report.
Israeli radio, according to United Press International, quoted an unnamed Cabinent minister as saying that "the negotiations will continue, but we will only know how after Dayan reports to the Cabinet.
"There difficulties and divisions in the negotiations were not solved, but the opening for negotiations was not completely closed," the minister reportly said.
In Cairo, President Anwar Sadat said Egypt will continue its Middle East peace efforts, regardless of obstacles, and urged President Carter to maintain his "constructive role."
He said in a cable of Christmas greetings to the Carters that the Egyptian people are "stretching out their hand for peace . . . and will continue along the path of peace, regardless of obstacles, confident that the dawn of peace will break eventually."
Sadat told Carter that Egyptians "esteem your active and constructive role in maintaining the peace momentum and look and look forward in confidence to the continuation of this role."
This Middle East peace talks have been deadlocked since mid-November, and work toward a resumption of the negotiations has been stalled since Vance's Middle East shuttle ended unsuccessfully two weeks ago.
The talks, centered mostly in the United Stated, are the first step in the plan drawn up by the Carter, Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the Camp David summit in September.
American officials have expressed fears that if the current impasse continues, the prospects for peace are certain to dissipate.
There already has been some deterioration. In October, Egypt and Israel agreed to a draft treaty submitted to their governments, but both sides then pulled back.
The problems arose over Egypt's demands that the treaty be linked to a timetable for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank of the Jordan river and the Gaza Strip.
Now, the major stumbling block has developed into other disputes. After Vance's last shuttle, Begin listed four points in the negotiations that Israel would refuse to meet, Egypt had insisted that letters be attached to the treaty to outline a timetable for Palestinian home rule in Israeli-occupied areas.
Israel has declined any attempt to include deadlines for autonomy, fearing that if they cannot be met, the entire treaty could be abrogated. The Israelis are also also unhappy about Egypt's refusal to exchange ambassadors until autonomy is achieved.
Despite the lack of tangible results, Vance, unflappable and persevering, did not appear to be out of sorts from yet another long trip.
"Despite all the advances in international communications, there are still occasions when there is no substitute for face-to-face contact in dealing with difficult international problems," he said at Andrews.
Reporter aboard his plane presented him with a Christmas gift of a pound of bacon purchased during an airport stopover at Shannon, Ireland.
Vance grinned as he accepted the present, and said that he will continue to do his best to bring home some diplomatic bacon.