British officials said today that they still hope to work out a formula under which Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands can participate in the U.S.-led Sinai peace-keeping force, despite Israeli and U.S. objections to what Britain first proposed.
Britain, which holds the presidency of the 10-nation European Common Market, originally drafted a formal announcement that would have stated European participation in the Sinai force did not imply support of the Camp David peace process and reserved the Common Market's right to pursue its own peace initiative.
This drew not only a public warning from Israel that it might veto participation in the peace-keeping force by the four European countries, but also criticism from Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. that apparently prompted the most recent postponement of the formal announcement by the Europeans this week.
British officials noted reports from Washington that a U.S. official also suggested that Britain did not really want to participate in the Sinai force because of objections from Arab nations and had drafted a statement it knew would be rejected by Israel.
A British official said, "There is no truth in that whatsoever." Britain "wants to make a constructive contribution to the Sinai force and therefore will continue contacts with the Americans and with Britain's Common Market partners" to find an acceptable position.
The British government was doubtful about accepting, according to informed sources, but changed its position after the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. It then decided that participation in the Sinai force was necessary to avoid weakening the new government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian government also is reportedly concerned about the delay in the formal Common Market decision on participation in the Sinai force. Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali was scheduled to be briefed Thursday on the final form of the announcement. But the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands have twice postponed their meeting with him.
British officials indicate they are under pressure to resolve the issue this coming week.
The four European governments all have decided in principle to agree to U.S. and Israeli requests to participate in the planned 2,500-man force when Israel completes its withdrawal from the Sinai April 25. They also have been backed by a consensus of the other Common Market nations, a condition Britain put on its acceptance.
The original British draft for an announcement of the four countries' participation in the Sinai force was designed to meet objections from some other Common Market countries and senior British diplomats that participation in the Sinai force would be seen as an endorsement of the Camp David accords, tarnishing the independent European peace initiative and alienating Arab nations hostile to Camp David.
The Common Market's initiative calls for Palestinian participation in negotiations based on recognition of both the Palestinians' right to self-determination and Israel's right to existence within secure borders.
British officials have tried to play down Haig's criticism this week of British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington's repeated assertions that Camp David was limited as a vehicle for achieving lasting peace.
British officials said Haig's expression of concern in a meeting Tuesday with the British ambassador, Sir Nicholas Henderson, about the Sinai peace-keeping force was not similar to what he was later quoted as telling a group of American Jewish leaders immediately afterwards.
According to an account provided reporters in Washington by one of the participants in Haig's meeting with Jewish leaders, Haig said, "I would suspect if Mr. Carrington has to carry the burden of President Reagan of being held responsible in practical terms by international world opinion of the outcome of this very difficult situation, that he might be more circumspect with his adjectival pronouncements."
This caused a great stir here. Front-page news accounts emphasized Haig's use of "Mr." rather than "Lord" with Carrington's name and connected his "attack on Lord Carrington" with other controversies in which Haig had been embroiled in Washington this week.
Carrington visited Saudi Arabia to discuss the Saudis' peace plan, which implies Arab recognition of Israel if Israel negotiates with the Palestine Liberation Organization to set up a Palestinian state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River.
In response to Saudi concerns that European participation in the Sinai force might appear to be an endorsement of Camp David, Carrington said the Europeans would be acting "only on the basis of seeing that Arab lands are returned to Arab countries."
The Common Market nations would, nevertheless, be participating in the Sinai force under the auspices of the Camp David agreements, British sources said here, and are not seeking to undermine them or asking the United States, Israel or Egypt to endorse the European peace initiative.