Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. helped arrange former president Richard M. Nixon's four-nation Mideast tour without informing President Reagan or anyone in the White House, White House officials said yesterday.
Dean Fischer, Haig's spokesman, denied that Haig did anything more than supply the former president with briefing books on the countries he planned to visit. "It's not true," Fischer said of reports that Haig had helped arrange the trip.
White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes also denied the story. He said Reagan learned of the trip when Nixon stopped at the White House before leaving to attend the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
But presidential counselor Edwin Meese III and chief of staff James A. Baker III were reported to be angry that the Nixon trip was kept secret from them and Reagan and were puzzled about why Haig, who was Nixon's top White House aide in the last months of his administration, acted in secret.
Baker, however, was reached by Speakes last night to comment on this account of the Nixon trip and said, "I'm not angry," according to Speakes.
Haig's reported action reawakened feelings in the White House that the secretary of state is not willing to subordinate himself as part of a Reagan team.
Nixon, who flew to Cairo as part of the official delegation to Sadat's funeral, left for Saudi Arabia after the rites. The trip came as something of a surprise, and State Department spokesmen described it then as a "private visit."
According to the White House officials, the former president spoke three or four times with national security adviser Richard V. Allen without mentioning his plans in the three days before Nixon, together with former presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, flew to Cairo for the funeral. Haig led the delegation as the senior administration official representing Reagan.
Fischer's version was that Nixon told Haig his travel plans as they went to Andrews Air Force Base en route to Cairo the night of Oct. 8. Fischer said he did not know whether Haig relayed news of the Nixon trip to any White House official before it began two days later.
Nixon's inclusion in the delegation and his subsequent journey to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco have been taken by some as a sign of political rehabilitation.
He concluded his tour by issuing a policy statement that said the United States should lead an economic quarantine of Libya and that direct talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization will be "inevitable" unless progress comes out of the Camp David peace process.
Yesterday, when asked about Nixon's call for a Libyan boycott, the president said the administration had no plans for an economic quarantine. "It would have to be worldwide. . . . No one country could affect them by having a boycott," Reagan said.
White House officials said that they first realized Nixon had plans of his own when he did not board the Air Force plane with Ford and Carter for the return trip after the Oct. 10 funeral.
There was no senior staff meeting at the White House the following Monday, because of Columbus Day, but at the Tuesday session the president's top advisers discussed how they would handle questions about the Nixon trip and there were expressions of annoyance that Haig had acted without their knowledge, according to White House sources.
Haig reportedly assigned Ambassador-at-Large Vernon Walters, who also was a longtime aide to Nixon, to handle the details of getting visas for Nixon and arranging the interviews that the former president had with leaders of the nations he visited.
Yesterday, in its new edition, Newsweek reported that Nixon's tour of the Middle East involved delivering messages for the Reagan administration. Nixon spoke with Haig in Cairo about bringing the PLO into the peace talks, Newsweek said. White House officials said if the report about the messages was true, those messages did not come from the White House.
Charges that Haig is not a team player were made by the White House early in the administration when Haig submitted a plan for the organization of national security policy that would have given him a dominant role. They were heard again when he openly fought against the president's decision to make Vice President Bush the head of crisis management should Reagan be absent from the White House during an emergency.
In recent months, however, Haig and White House aides appeared to have established better, more cooperative relations, despite continuing reports of friction between Haig and Allen.
The major unanswered question about Nixon's four-nation trip is whether it served Reagan well or badly. No president wants to have a former president play the role of statesman in foreign capitals unless there is close coordination between the former president and the White House.