President Carter said last night it is "almost disgusting" how close Egypt and Israel are to a peace treaty but yet how far apart they remain.
"We are so close to it. The remaining differences are absolutely insignificant. It's almost disgusting." Carter said in a toast at a White House dinner honoring the nation's governors. [Related story, Page B1].
Carter, who announced earlier yesterday that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin will arrive in Washington Thursday for talks on a Mideast peace treaty, said he had no doubt that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat would follow shortly if progress was made.
"If these talks [with Begin] open up opportunities for improvement, I have no doubt that Sadat will be here immediately to resume negotiations," he said.
Carter also said during the toast that with the change in government in Iran, Egypt has become the "stabilizing factor" in the Middle East.
He said Iran "cannot be considered a policeman anymore" in that region.
On another topic, the president said he hopes that within the next few months both the Soviet Union and China will receive most-favored-nation trading status with the United States, which is subject to congressional approval.
The Soviets have been denied that status because of their refusal to permit citizens to emigrate. But Carter said that in the last six months the Soviet Union has permitted "outmigration of 40,000 Jews... I guess the Soviet Union is now approaching the point where they would comply with most-favored-nation status."
On the Middle East, the president said that both Egypt and Israel "yearn so deeply for peace and we have absolutely insignificant differences that are now creating insurmountable obstacles."
He said the United States has been fair, despite the criticism it has received from both nations. He added philosophically that such criticism is probably inherent in the role of mediator, which the United States has assumed.
In the process of taking on that role, Carter said, "We have not benefited politically and we may fail."
He also said he had met for one hour yesterday with Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin and had discussed the strategic arms negotiations and the areas of disagreement and cooperation "between us."
Kentcuky Gov. Julian Carroll, outgoing chairman of the National Governors' Association, said he knew the governors appreciated "the partnership" Carter had bestowed on them in his after-dinner remarks in the East Room.