President Carter has sent a message to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in an attempt to revive the stalled Palestinian autonomy talks, the State Department confirmed yesterday.
The message was delivered by U.S. Ambassador Alfred Atherton, meeting with Sadat in Cario. Atherton would not comment on the contents of the message, but Egypt's official Middle East News Agency said it outlined new American proposals for getting the autonomy talks under way again.
Administration sources said that part of the message was a proposal for Egypt and Israel to send their top autonomy negotiators to Washington for a new rouund of talks with Carter's special Mideast negotiator, Sol M. Linowitz.
The United States had proposed intensive negotiations here when Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin made separate visits to the White House in April. However, because of Israeli insistence, it was agreed that the intensified talks would alternate between Egypt and Israel. That broke donw in May when the first rounds in Tel Aviv made no progress.
Begin said yesterday in Jerusalem that his top negotiator, Interior Minister Yosef Burg, may travel to Washington this week to discuss a date for resuming the talks. He refused to say whether Burg had an invitation from Carter, and a State Department spokesman said a letter had not been sent to Begin.
But, the spokesman said "we've had, practically on a daily basis, exchanges with both the Egyptian and Israeli governments."
Sadat suspended the year-long Egyptian-Israeli talks last month because of Israel's insistence on not discussing the status of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and on the issue of maintaining security control in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip.
State Department spokesman David Passage said U.S. officials had been in touch with both parties since the talks were suspended, trying to sort out their differences. The letter from Carter to Sadat, he said," is a step in that process.'"
"It is a formal step," he said, "and it is out of the ordinary in that sense."
The State Department spokesman noted that Sadat had taken a similar step two weeks ago, when Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak delivered to Carter in a White House meeting a letter outlining Egypt's proposals for resolving the impasse.
U. S. officials have been optimistic that the autonomy talks, part of the peace process that began with the Camp David summit meeting of Carter, Sadat and Begin will be resumed. The deadline for completion of the talks passed on May 26.
"We hope within the next week or so it will be possible to resume discussions between the three countries," Passage said.
Efforts to get the talks under way again have taken on a special urgency in Washington as the administration seeks to salvage Carter's major foreign policy success.
Linowitz has engaged in intensive behind-the-scense efforts to tear down the obstacles. Thursday, Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie issued a statement appealing for an end to terrorism on the West Bank.Officials fear that the mounting violence will further delay resumption of the talks and jeopardize the peace process.
Muskie is to give what is expected to be a major policy speech on the Mideast today before the Washington Press Club. State Department spokesman Passage said, however, that Muskie "does not plan to announce a new initiative" by the United States in that speech.
In a appearance yesterday on "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC), Muskie said the United States would not oppose a Mideast peace initiative by its West European allies as long as it did not undermine the Camp David process. But he said he would not want to see an inititive that diverts attention from the autonomy talks. The European allies have been discussing moves to advance the peace process, which many of them see as hopelessly stalled.
Muskie, however, said he does not believe the talks are hopelessly mired but that they have been temporarily derailed by the violence in the West Bank in the last two weeks.
"We are actively pursing a resumption of the talks . . . and I expect the talks to resume, though I can't put a time frame on it," he said.
He said the recent violence "is the best reason I can think of for a continuation" of the talks which he called "the only negotiation that has taken place since the creation of Israel -- the only negotiation that involves not only the survival of Israel but also the rights of Palestinians."