Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak met with President Carter and other U.S. officials yesterday amid growing indications that the current talks with Israel are hung up on the difficult and emotional issue of Jerusalem.
According to a senior State Department official who spoke to reporters following meetings with Mubarak, Egypt interpreted the recent introduction of legislatoin about Jerusalem in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, as "an attempt to foreclose discussion of Jerusalem's ultimate status by indirect means."
The official, who met with reporters on the condition that he not be quoted by name, said there is "no reason" why the Israeli cabinet cannot take some action to reassure the Egyptians about the legislation in oder to bring about resumption of the talks.
To a reporter's skepticism about Israeli willingness to be accomodating on this issue, the official replied, "If you take that position, you might as well end the Camp David process now."
He added that everything must be negotiable between the negotiating parties, and expressed optimism that in the end the Middle East peace process will surmount this hurdle as it has previous ones."
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in an interview with The Washington Post Thursday in Jerusalem, expressed unwillingness to reconsider the Israeli position on the disputed city, holy to Jewish, Moslem and Christian religions.
Begin said that "it's up to Egypt" to take steps that would bring about a resumption of the interrupted talks on Palestinian autonomy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, the Egyptian vice president, speaking to reporters here yesterday, said a continuation of the negotiations depends on Israel's attitude. Mubarak accused Israel of "creating troubled and hindering negotiations" by refusing to discuss Jerusalem's future.
The immediate issue involving Jerusalem is the rights of about 100,000 Palestinians living in the eastern sector of the city, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and then annexed.
Mubarak's 30-minute meeting with Carter was the forum for delivering a message from President Anwar Sadat about the stalled Egyptian-Israeli negotations. Neither Mubarak nor U.S. officials would disclose the contents of the message, but the Egyptian suggested that it dealt largely with the Jerusalem question.
There has been speculation that another summit meeting of Carter, Sadat and Begin will be necessary to renew the momentum in the negotiations, the next step in the process set in motion by the three men at Camp David two years ago this summer.
But U.S. officials have said that such a summit appears premature. The senior State Department official said it is "not yet" time to move to a summit meeting.
In other areas of foreign policy, the senior State Department official, who said he had positive initial impressions of his associates in an office new to him, told reporters:
The turmoil in South Korea appears more containable than it did a day or two ago. The short-term priority amid continuing danger is for security and order, even while the United States remains committed to longer-range priorities involving a renewal of the drive toward democratic rule there.
A continuation of the dialogue about Afghanistan with the Soviet Union, following Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie's meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Kromyko in Vienna a week ago, is "definitely in the cards." The means of continuing the dialogue are not yet decided, however.
The U.S. official placed considerable significance on Gromyko's decision to present a formula for eventual Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan; even though that formula is unacceptable to the West. He said that the Soviet-backed plan, which calls for Soviet withdrawal to be considered when all Afghan resistance has ceased, was intended by Gromyko to be the start of discussion on the issue.
The impact on the Soviet leadership of the U.S.-sponsored boycott of the Moscow Olympics this summer would be greater if more countries took part. But even so, close to 60 nations will boycott the Games, including many of those with the most accomplished athletic competitors, making it "a setback" for the Soviets and "not a defeat" for the United States.
The United States remains committed to a two-pronged program of sanctions and diplomacy in the effort to obtain release of the U.S. hostages in Iran. The best prospect for the furture, reporters were told, arises from a growing awareness in Iran that the continued detention of the Americans is not in Iran's national interest.
Muskie will travel extensively in the United States in the coming months, at Carter's request, to explain U.S. foreign policy. While the new secretary of state is aware that some will consider this activity political, he does not, having foresworn politics.