The White House and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. today tried to quiet a controversy arising from the purported criticism by two Haig aides of Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Haig said he was "sorry and disappointed" over a report in The New York Times that aides of his had criticized Kirkpatrick's performance in drafting a resolution condemning the June 7 Israeli attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor.
President Reagan made no statement. But a senior White House official said Haig had been made aware before he arrived here for an hour-long meeting with the president that Reagan fully supported Kirkpatrick's conduct and the resolution, which deplored the raid without invoking sanctions against Israel.
"The message was sent and received," the official said. Asked what the message was, the aide said it was that Reagan fully backed Kirkpatrick, whom he had telephoned in Paris Wednesday to laud for "a splendid job," and that he deplored still another controversy in which Haig or his aides criticized other administration officials.
After a highly publicized flap earlier, when Haig protested the designation of Vice President Bush as head of the administration's crisis-management team, Reagan told his staff and the State Department that he wanted no further public airing of in-house controversies.
The White House official termed the current controversy "a ripple which we've prevented from becoming a wave," and said that Haig had reiterated that he was not responsible for the criticism of Kirkpatrick.
Haig, without answering questions, issued a statement in Honolulu Wednesday saying that he was "shocked and disappointed that such a story should be written."
Today, after reporting to Reagan on his just-completed Asian trip, Haig was met by reporters outside the Century Plaza Hotel here and was immediately bombarded with questions about the Kirkpatrick affair. He responded testily.
Asked whether the controversy had come up in his meeting with Reagan, Haig replied, "Well, it's your controversy, it's not mine. I have no controversy. I made that very clear yesterday, and it was discussed, of course, but in passing."
When a reporter persisted in asking whether Reagan had been angry with Haig's aides -- purportedly press spokesman Dean Fischer and Richard Burt, a former Times reporter who is director of the State Department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs -- Haig replied:
"No. Look, we have a lot of serious business to do in the conduct of America's foreign policy. These kinds of things happen as they have happened in the past.If we allow them to divert us from the serious business that we are about, I think we are not serving the American people and their interest properly, and I am not going to do it."
Asked whether he would take any action against the aides, Haig said, "I'm not taking any action against them other than to be very concerned that the situation came up, sorry and disappointed that it did, because it doesn't reflect reality, and that's frequently the case in such personality speculative stories."
At Haig's side as he answered questions was National Security Council director Richard V. Allen, who has become the administration's point man in its uphill battle to win congressional approval of the sale of airborne warning and control system aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. Haig acknowledged that the proposed sale was in trouble on Capitol Hill.
"I think the reading that Mr. Allen has and that I have as well is that we have a lot of work to do . . . and we hope that those who have expressed our position would be patient and take the time to see firsthand for themselves the conditions under which that sale will be made."