President Reagan, who is considering several options for dealing with the knotty politics of the Palestinian question, will meet on this and other Middle East problems today with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Advance word from senior U.S. officials is that Reagan intends to do more listening than expressing of his own view of the next steps in the Mideast peace process. Nonetheless, preparations for the Sadat talks have given the president his most urgent need and most extensive opportunity to consider the future American role.
Sadat, who arrived at Andrews Air Force Base last night, provided a public fortaste of his opinion, telling a news conference in London that the United States should continue as a "full partner" in the search for an Arab-Israeli peace.
In this pursuit, Sadat said, Washington should drop its six-year-old ban on U.S. discussions with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Administration officials have said flatly that no change in policy toward the PLO is contemplated until that organization meets the longstanding U.S. requirement of accepting Israel's right to exist as well as accepting United Nations resolutions on the peace process.
A plan to provide autonomy to Palestinians living on the West Bank and Gaza was the main vehicle for dealing with the Palestinian problem to emerge from the Camp David agreements and Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty sponsored by the Carter administration.
Egypt and Israel set a target date of May, 1980, for completing the autonomy negotiations, which were expected to lead to election of a Palestinian "self-governing authority" for the West Bank and Gaza by last fall.
The negotiations quickly bogged down, however, and Jordan and the resident Palestinians refused to join the talks. Last March, Sadat broke off further talks on the issue with Israel until after the Israeli elections in June. Whether, how and when to resume the stalled negotiations is expected to be an important subject in the Reagan-Sadat talks.
According to a top State Department official, three options under consideration are:
Continuation of the autonomy negotiations in the existing framework.
Modification of the framework in order to focus first on the board principles at issue rather than details of autonomy on which negotiations have bogged down.
A more dramatic change from the recent process, perhaps a more comprehensive approach to the Palestinian question.
The senior State Department official expressed personal skepticism about a dramatic new approach, but he did not rule it out. In any case, no final conclusions are expected until after the Washington visit of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in early September, the official said.
Sadat, whose vivid style and bold personal decisions have transformed the Middle East equation, is believed to be anxious to establish a warm relationship with Reagan, whom he has never met. The two leaders are to hold business sessions at the White House today and tomorrow, in addition to a state dinner tonight.
Another topic likely to figure prominently in the Reagan-Sadat talks is the threat that both believe is posed by Soviet activity in the Middle East.
Sadat, who broke off off an Egyptian military relationship with the Soviet Union and expelled its advisers in 1976, was warning about Soviet inroads well before the Carter administration policy took an anti-Soviet turn at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan.
The Reagan administration is prepared to assure the Egyptian leader that it intends to continue a high level of U.S. economic and material support, officials said. The new administration agreed several months ago to step up the delivery of M60 tanks and other arms promised by the Carter administration.
Sadat, in turn, has offered to permit U.S. use of the Egyptian military base at Ras Banas across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia. The administration has asked Congress for $106 million to improve runways and other facilties there in order to facilitate its use by the Pentagon's Rapid Deployment Force in Middle East crises.