U.S. officials said yesterday that they regard President Reagan's meeting with King Hussein of Jordan at the White House next Tuesday as a potentially important step toward progress on Reagan's Mideast peace initiative, but they caution that they don't expect any "dramatic breakthroughs."
A personal meeting with Reagan could help Hussein work his way successfully through the complex, ongoing inter-Arab talks, the officials said.
The hope is that they will result in the Palestine Liberation Organization and moderate Arab governments giving the green light for Jordan's entry into negotiations over the future of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
According to the officials, the king will be seeking assurances that Reagan remains committed to his initiative. He also will ask for a more detailed explanation of the U.S. position to buttress him in further talks with the PLO and other Arab leaders.
To encourage Hussein, the president is expected to make clear that, despite Israel's vehement rejection of the U.S. proposals, he is determined to stick with the initiative's long-range goal of giving the occupied territories independence "in association with Jordan."
The immediate U.S. goal is to bring about a broadened peace process by encouraging the Arab countries to find a way to get Hussein to the bargaining table with a mandate to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians.
If that can be done, U.S. policymakers say they believe, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin will have no choice but to respond positively.
Once widened talks are under way, they say, the Israelis will be forced to reassess their inflexible stance and begin to make hard choices about how they can best assure Israel's peace and security.
In addition, although administration officials are reluctant to acknowledge a direct link with the peace process, Hussein's visit is likely to partly satisfy Hussein's longstanding desire for a new infusion of advanced U.S. weaponry.
Some sources said the administration probably will offer to sell Jordan two squadrons of F20 jet fighters and a number of shoulder-fired Stinger antiaircraft missiles.
The F20, manufactured by Northrop Aviation, is the new advanced version of the F5G, which has been used by the Jordanian air force for several years.
However, the sources continued, the administration plans to defer for the time being a decision on Hussein's desire for two ultra-advanced weapons systems: F16 fighter-bombers and mobile Hawk ground-to-air antiaircraft missiles to augment the fixed-position, earlier model Hawks already in Jordan's arsenal.
The sources were reluctant to characterize this tentative decision as a carrot-and-stick maneuver aimed at encouraging Hussein to join the peace process while holding out the prospect of even greater rewards if he cooperates, in the form of a favorable decision on the F16s and mobile Hawks.
They acknowledged that arms sales are, as one source said, "clearly an element" in dealing with Hussein.
But they also said the administration's decision to hold back on the F16s and Hawks stems more directly from an assessment of what Congress is likely to approve at present, and a desire to avoid giving Israel new reasons to justify its inflexible position by claiming that the Mideast arms balance is tipping toward the Arabs.