British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington warned yesterday that "a very dangerous situation" is beginning to arise in the Middle East because of lack of visible progress toward a solution of the Palestinian problem. He said oil supplies to the developed world as well as Middle East attitudes toward Soviet power could be affected.
Following a round of talks with top U.S. officials, including secretary of state-designate Edmund S. Muskie and presidential assistant Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carrington suggested anew that the Europeans may take some initiative on Middle East peace this summer and fall while Washington is immobilized due to the presidential election campaign.
"We cannot allow a gap" in the drive toward a Middle settlement while the American elections go forward, Carrington told reporters over breakfast before departing for London. A likely means of filling a void, he said, would be a European-sponsored United Nations resolution to "supplement" Resolution 242, the existing framework for a broad Arab-Israeli peace agreement.
The U.S. attitude toward a such European initiative ranges from unenthusiastic to unprintable. Some officials see it as a European effort to win favor from Arab oil-producing states while Washington is left to hold the line for Israel and the Camp David peace process during an American political campaign. In any case, thereis little indication that Israel would accept a new initiative involving the Palestinians under present circumstances.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Donald McHenry, has foreseen the possibility that a European statement on the Middle East could lead to special meetings of the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council this summer in which the United States would be isolated from Third World nations and even from the European allies.
With nearly everyone else voting for a resolution that is unacceptable to the United States and Israel, McHenry said, "we could find ourselves in the same position as the Soviets on Afghanistan." He added, in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, that "we are not the aggressor [as the Russians are] but the isolation would be the same."
Both Carrington and McHenry -- like many other official observers -- have said that much depends on the outcome of the current Egyptian-Israeli negotiations on autonomy arrangements for Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. The chances for an early resolution acceptable to the Palestinians were considered modest at best, and they may have been diminished further by the killings, deportations and continuing emotional conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank town of Hebron in recent days.
In his talk with reporters, Carrington refused to be specific about the "very dangerous situation" arising in the Middle East. He said, however, that it involved "the oil problem" and the feeling among Arabs that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank should be equated with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which has aroused worldwide condemnation.
In Carrington's view, the three pressing problems of the Middle East region -- Iran, Afghanistan and the Arab-Israeli dispute -- are closely related in various ways.
For example, he said that U.S. action to blockade or mine Iranian ports in the hostage crisis might bring strong and adverse reactions from Arab countries and other Islamic states nearby. These states might equate such U.S. action with the Soviet invasion of Afghanisetan, with serious effects on the Israeli-Arab negotiations, he said.
Carrington said the American administration is aware of the possibilities and difficulties of its next steps in Iran, but refused to say what he expects them to be.
State Departement spokesman Hodding Carter said "a policy review process" involving the White House and various government departments is under way regarding Iran. The situation is "relatively static" at this point, with further steps awaiting completion of the review, Carter said.