Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak will arrive here today to discuss President Anwar Sadat's concerns about the deadlocked Palestinian autonomy talks with President Carter and to propose some new Egyptian ideas for getting negotiations going again.
Administration officials said the Egyptians unexpectedly asked Tuesday night that Carter receive Mubarak, and plans were being made yesterday for a White House meeting Friday. But, the officials added, they are not clear about the nature of the message Sadat is sending.
The officials said they hoped Mubarak's visit will dispel the confusion created last week when Sadat announced his willingness to resume the autonomy negotiations with Israel and then, less than 24 hours later, did a U-turn and rejected the idea of continuing talks.
Since then, Sadat has sent cryptic signals both to Washington and Israel indicating that he doesn't intend a permaenet break in the U.S-mediated talks on a system of limited self-government for the Palestinian inhabitants of Israeli-occupied territories.
But U.S. officials admit, they have been unable to get a clear picture of what caused Sadat's actions or when he might approve a resumption of negotiations.
The feeling in official circles here is that the stated Egyptian rationale for balking -- an Israeli parliamentary resolution declaring that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state -- is not the real, or at least full, reason for Sadat's decision to put the talks on hold.
The autonomy talks, which are crucial to futhering the Camp David peace process, will pass their May 26 target date for completion with Egypt and Israel still far apart on such key issues as the degree of self-governing power that will be granted to the Palestinians and the extent to which Israel will control security in the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip territories.
For that reason, U.S. officials feel that Sadat fearful that the talks will drag on inconclusively and further increase his isolation within the Arab world, is resorting to a shock tactic aimed at forcing the United States to prod Israel more vigorously.
Specifically, some U.S. sources say, they believe Sadat wants Carter to try to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin into making more concessions and to refrain from actions that Egypt regards as provocative, such as increasing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and symbolically underscoring Israeli claims to Jerusalem.
Mustafa Khalil, who had been Egyptian prime minister until Sadat's government shakeup last week, conferred here yesterday for three hours with Carter's special Midwest negotiator, Sol M. Linowitz, and also met later with Secreatry of State Edmund S. Muskie.
But although Khalil is expected to continue playing a major role in the autonomy negotiations, reliable sources said even he did not seem to have any real idea of the proposals being brought by Mubarak.
According to the sources, the talks with Khalil did reveal that the Egyptians are very annoyed about the recent Israeli resolution on Jerusalem and, as some sources put it, that there is a "great deal of misunderstanding in Cairo" about the Israeli action.
The resolution, which was nonbinding, reaffirmed the longstanding Israeli position that Jerusalem should remain an undivided city and the capital of Israel. Both U.S. and Israeli officials have pointed out that neither the resolution nor other legisaltion pending in the Israeli parliament broke any new ground in terms of Israel's bargaining position.
In any event, the sources said, the hope here is that any misunderstandings can be dispelled during the Mubarak visit and the autonomy talks put back on track without lengthy delays.
A powerful spur to U.S. desires for a quick resumption is the growing possibility of a confrontation between the United States and its European allies over the Middle East. If the autonomy talks show signs of failing, the Europeans are likely to back a United Nations move to recognize the right of Palestinian "self-determination" and to bring the Palestine Liberation Organization into the peace process.
During his talks in Europe last week, Muskie sought to persuade the Europeans that such a move would be counter-productive. But, U.S. sources admitted, his arguments made little headway, and the Europeans served notice that they are not prepared to wait much beyond May 26 before attempting to interpose themselves in the Mideast situation.