Israel asked the United State yesterday to abandon a private diplomatic agreement reached with the Soviet Union that would turn over initial supervision of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty to a few hundred United Nations truce observers.
The Carter administration immediately refused and said it would push ahead with its efforts to implement the Russian-approved observers plan, which both superpowers apparently hope will improve the chances of Senate approval of the strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT).
The new dispute between Prime Minister Mecachem Begin's government and the Carter administration flared around the scheduled expiration toaday of the Security Council mandate for the 4,000-man United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) that currently separates Israeli and Egyptian troops in the Sinai.
Behind this argument lay the broader question of U.S. guarantees to support the Egyptian-Israeli treaty, signed on the White House lawn in March with President Carter as its witness. Carter offered Israel a number of assurances to get Begin to sign.
Emerging from a 1 1/2 hour meeting with Senate Department officials, Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron told reporters that Israel reads the treaty as establishing an immediate U.S. commitment to replace UNEF with a multinational military force.
Israeli officials suggested that Evron had called for immediate U.S. organization of a fully staffed international peacekeeping force of several thousand soldiers to replace UNEF.
Evron -- who described the Russian-approved obserber plan as "unacceptable" to Israel -- took issue with a State Department interpretation delivered earlier in the day that the U.S. obligation to form an alternative force does not come into effect until 1982.
Department spokesman Hodding Carter said at a briefing that Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance believes that the observer plan "is a viable alternative to UNEF" and "can do the job."
"Our reading of the treaty is very different," Evron said. "We have a commitment from the United States that the United States. . . will put together a multinational force."
U.S. and U.N. officials stressed that the UNEF peacekeepers will take several months to withdraw from the Sinai even though the mandate lapses today. They also emphasized present good relations between Egypt and Israel and a reason for believing that they have time to pursuade Begin eventually to accept the observer idea.
Evron went to the State Department to relay formally Sunday's Israeli cabinet decision rejecting the U.S.-Soviet agreement, which was reached in the corridors of the United Nations last week as a way to avoid a messy public confrontation in the Security Council in the midst of the Senate SALT debate.
U.S.-Israeli relations were further strained by Israeli air raids into Lebanon on Sunday and the State Department's sharp condemnation of those raids yesterday. Spokesman Hodding Carter said that the department had informed Israeli officials "in the strongest terms that such raids must be stopped."
The new strains surfaced after a period of relative calm for the Carter and Begin governments, which clashed bitterly last winter over the treaty negotiations and later over the treaty's terms. Yesterday's dispute appeared to threaten a reopening of old wounds.
U.S. and U.N. officials said they believe that Begin would not push the argument to the point of confrontation with the United States, but would eventually accept the plan to replace the fully armed UNEF units with a United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization (UNTSO).
Currently about 300 unarmed UNTSO observers are on truce lines separating Isreal from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. U.N. sources said that the UNTSO unit might be expanded to 500 men if the U.S.-Soviet plan is accepted and UNTSO replaces UNEF in the Sinai.
In rejecting the plan on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet made clear that Israel does not want to entrust the United Nations as ultimate guarantor of the Egyptian treaty, Israeli officials said.
Clearly surpirsed at the Israeli action and discomforted by being put on the spot about obligations Carter may have accepted by pushing so hard for the treaty, administration officials yesterday disputed the Israeli interpretation of American responsibilities.
UNEF was set up in 1973 to supervise the two Sinai disengagement agreements negotiated by Henry A. Kissinger, than secretary of state.
The present Egyptian-Israeli treaty calls for UNEF to move into buffer zones between withdrawing Israeli troops and advancing Egyptian troops as Israel turns all of the Sinai back over to Egypt in phased withdrawals over the next three years.
Most Arab countries and the Soviet Union have denounced the treaty. Soviet officials said publicly in June they would veto a Security Council move to extend the UNEF mandate and to see the force to help implement the treaty.
U.S. officials indicated yesterday that Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (S-W.Va.) told the Russians this month during a trip to Moscow that a veto on Middle East peacekeeping would probably harm the chances for Senate approval of SALT.
The administration also reportedly stressed to the Russians that the alternative to a U.N. force of some kind was one organized under U.S auspices, a move that could increase superpower tension in the area.
Although subsequently disowned by the State Department, one contingency plan drawn up the Pentagon two months ago focused on the possibility of providing a force composed of U.S. military personnel.
Evidently inpressed with these arguments, the Russians suddenly areed last week not to oppose a quite move by Secretary General Kurt Waldheim that would expand the UNTSO force and disploy operations come directly under Waldheim's control and do not require public approval in the Security Council.
But Isreal sharply attacked this part of the arrangement, suggesting that Waldheim would be vulnerable to Russian pressure. Israeli officials cited U Thant's sudden withdrawal in 1967 of U.N. troops from the Sanai on the eve of the Six-Day War.
The key part of the dispute yesterday was the statement read by State Department spokesman Carter, which for the first time focused on a U.S. interpretation that "the peace treaty calls for a permanent peacekeeping force at the end of the three-year withdrawal period."
U.S. officials conceeded that in discussions with the Israelis since April, the administration has said it was prepared to accept responsibility for organizing an alternative force during the three-year interim period if UNEF was not available.
But yesterday, clearly angered by the sudden Israeli rejection of UNTSO 48 hours before the expiration of the UNEF mandate, U.S. officials insisted that the administration would not be stampeded into accepting responsibility for an alternative force now.