President Reagan conferred for 2 1/2 hours yesterday with George P. Shultz, the president's choice to replace Alexander M. Haig Jr. as secretary of state, and Shultz said afterward that he believes he "can work simpatico" in the Reagan administration.
Shultz's meeting with the president and his key White House aides at Camp David came as senior administration officials, concerned about the impact of Haig's abrupt and angry resignation at a particularly tumultuous time in world affairs, sought to stress that continuity will be maintained in U.S. foreign policy.
Their emphasis was intended as a counter to Haig's charge that administration policy had strayed from its course of "consistency, clarity and steadiness of purpose." They also went out of their way to describe Shultz as "a team player" in contrast to the tempermental Haig, whose departure was precipitated largely by his many battles over policy control and turf.
Haig's resignation on Friday came as Israel's military campaign against the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon had reached the point of a possible Israeli occupation of Beirut. As a result, the shift from Haig to Shultz has triggered considerable speculation about whether the administration might be moving to pressure Israel to pull back.
Heightening that speculation is the fact that Shultz, who heads a company with extensive business dealings in the Arab world, is generally regarded as an advocate of a more evenhanded U.S. approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israeli sources said yesterday, however, that the administration had conveyed to them its message about continuity of policy. The sources said Israel had been advised that U.S. policy in the Middle East would continue to reflect the wishes and attitudes of the president and that the role of the secretary of state is to implement the president's policies.
If policy changes are in the offing on the Middle East or other global problems, Shultz was careful not to talk about them when he made a brief statement to reporters following his return here from Camp David. Instead, he turned aside questions by saying that the time between now and his confirmation by the Senate "will be my days of silence."
"I regard this, the service implied by this nomination, to be a high privilege and a grave duty," he said. "I regard it also as an opportunity to do what I can to advance the causes of peace, freedom and justice in a world so troubled and so anxious to hope for a good future."
Shultz, noting that he has known Reagan for years, stressed: "I know him well, and he knows me. I'm confident on the basis of all these contacts and experiences, let alone the discussion we had today, that I can work simpatico for him and with his administration." He made these remarks in the course of a whirlwind day that began with his arrival here yesterday morning from London, where Reagan telephoned him on Friday to offer him the Cabinet post. He was whisked by helicopter to Camp David for talks and a working lunch with Reagan, national security adviser William P. Clark, presidential counselor Edwin Meese III and White House chief of staff James A. Baker III.
Although they declined to give details, administration officials said the meeting involved discussion both of Shultz's role within the policy-making machinery and his views on such pressing policy matters as the Middle East, the strains in U.S. relations with Western Europe, and East-West issues, including the start of talks this week in Geneva on strategic arms reductions.
But while the urgency of these matters is likely to be heightened by the confusion and uncertainty associated with the sudden change at the top of the State Department, Shultz indicated that he intends to stay in the background until after his Senate confirmation hearings. They are expected to take place after Congress returns from recess on July 12.
White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said that, while Shultz will have a transition office at the State Department, Haig will remain in charge of day-to-day running of the department for the time being. In the interim, Speakes added, Shultz will put his emphasis on getting briefed about key issues, setting his affairs in order and preparing for the confirmation hearings.
Speakes said Shultz is scheduled to visit the State Department today, but the White House spokesman cautioned that he could not say for certain that Shultz and Haig will confer.
Haig, who spent much of the day in his office setting his affairs in order and monitoring the conflict in Lebanon, invited the department's senior officers to a farewell reception Monday evening.
That was taken as a sign by some department officials that, despite Speakes' statement, Haig might be leaving as early as this week. No one seemed able, however, to provide any clarification about how long Haig will remain at State and what interim arrangements will be made if he departs before Shultz is confirmed.
Speakes also said Shultz planned to confer by telephone over the weekend with Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) and to begin making courtesy calls on Capitol Hill Tuesday. He also met late yesterday with members of the National Security Council staff at the White House.