Egypt believes that a new summit conference with the United States and Israel is the only way to end the stalemate in Middle East peace negotiations and wants President Carter to convene such a meeting soon, informed Egyptian sources said today.
The turmoil in Iran makes a regional peace settlement between Israel and lits Arab neighbors all the more urgent, the Egyptians argue, and since there is no prosepect of achieving such an accord by any other means, a summit will be necessary.
A White House spokesman said this week that the United States would only call a summit meeting if both Israel and Egypt were prepared to demonstrate flexiblility. Observers here believe the desire to do just that motivated President Anwar Sadat to tell reporters on Friday that Egypt had agreed to sell oil from its Sinai fields to Israel at market prices.
Sadat and the top officials of his government have refrained from saying publicly that they want a new summit along the lines of the Camp David meetings last summer. But they have hinted at it in broad terms and have virtually ruled out any other format for pursuing the negotiations.
Sadat said Friday he would consult Carter about the next step in the Negotiations.
"Let's hope we hear from President Carter soon," he said.
The acting foreign minister, Boutros Ghali, met today with U.S. Ambassador Hermann Eilts for what was officially described as a discussion of "bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields."
In an interview published here this morning, Ghali rejected a proposal by Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan for an Egyptian-Israeli meeting without American participation. He said he believed the events in Iran and other world developments would "strengthen and increase the will of the United States to achieve peace" in the Middle East.
According to well-placed Egyptian sources, there is no longer any hope that a peace treaty can be achieved without direct and forceful intervention by the United States. A sour atmosphere of bitterness and recrimination, marked by sharp anti-Israeli commentary in the Cairo press, is an accurate indicator of the current state of sentiment between Egypt and Israel.
"It's fair to say," a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official observed today, "that the peace process is no longer self-sustaining." The last time the negotiations reached this point, Carter rescued them from collapse by summoning Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Camp David.
Last month's mission by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Alfred Atherton is seen here as having accomplished very little. The shuttle negotiation misson of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in December was also a failure.
While Egypt might accept an invitation from Carter to send a ministerial level delegation to Washington for new talks, Foreign Ministry officials are unenthusiastic about that possibility. They say the experience of the Blair House negotiations last autumn, which convened the top Cabinet ministers of Egypt and Israel under American guidance, shows that this format cannot break the impasse because the negotiators are subject to being overuled by their superiors at home.
The Egyptians say Dayan accepted Egyptian proposals on several key points only to have them rejected later by Begin. The Egyptian negotiators also agreed to some points that were overruled later by Sadat.
"That's why a summit is necessart," one high-ranking Egyptian said today. "We can't have another Blair House."
Atherton sought to resolve the differences between Egypt and Israel over the wording of two articles of the draft worked out at the Blair House talks. The Egyptians say they expected little from the Atherton mission because that was the wrong approach, and they got what they expected.
What the Egyptians say they want to do now is stop picking at details and haggling over language and try for a breakthrough in principle on the real issue, the future of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Once that is achieved, they argue, the details will be easy, but the only format in which it can be done is a summit conference in which the United Sates would participate.
Boutrous Ghali indicated as much after the Atherton mission.
He said the way to proceed was to lay aside arguments over the wording of specific articles or explanatory letters, and "tackle the linkage issue." Linkage lmeans the relationship between and Egypt-Israel peace treaty and the implementation of Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories, which has been the one real stumbling block since Camp David, where it was left vague.
There can only be a breakthrough if Israel of Egypt retreats from what appear to be fundamentally irreconcilable approaches to the Palestinian question. Egyptian officials from Sadat down insist that it cannot be they who yield because the result would be a separate peace with Israel, which would only aggravate, not alleviate, regional tensions.
The Egyptians were stung by Dayan's reported remarks that Egypt had backed off from signing a separate peace agreement because of the upheaval in Iran.
An editorial in the country's biggest newspaper, Al Akhbar, said the Israeli foreign minister was "bent upon calumny and prevarciation," and reminded its readers that Egypt has consistently refused to consider any peace agreement that does not provide at least a basis for settling the Palestinian question.
Far from deterring a peace agreement, Egyptian officials argue, the Iranian situation should provide an impetus to it. The Egyptians say that it would benefit the stability of the entire Middle East, and hence the interests of the United States, if agreement were reached on a comprehensive settlement that the Palestinians and King Hussein of Jordan would accept.
"What is needed is more effort from the U.S. to stabilize the area," a Foreign Ministry official said. "There has to be enough in it so the Palestinians don't resort to violence."
Egyptian officials and journalists known to be close to Sadat have renewed their claims recently that the Israelis actually want to keep the West Bank. They have accused Israel of pursuing its settlement policy there in an effort to keep Jordan and the Palestinians our of the peace talks.
Right or wrong, that belief underlies the Egyptian determination to have the Americans take an active part in any further negotiations because -- as has been true for months -- the Egyptians are essentially appealing to the United States, not to Israel.
Egyptian sources say there is reason to believe that Saudi Arabia, deeply worried about events in Iran, will respond by seeking still closer U.S. ties and may therefore be induced to moderate its opposition to the Camp David agreements.