King Hussein of Jordan will confer with President Reagan today about the chances for new Arab-Israeli peace talks, but U.S. officials cautioned against expecting dramatic breakthroughs in the search for a Palestinian-Jordanian negotiating team acceptable to all sides.
"This visit is part of a process that we hope in the end will lead to extension of the peace process and to direct negotiations," said a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters on condition he not be identified. "But there is still a long way to go," he said. "And I would caution you not to look for dramatic occurrences in the next 48 hours."
Hussein's visit is the latest event in a series that began Feb. 11 when the king and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat agreed on a "framework" for joint talks aimed at ending Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist.
In addition to his talks with Reagan and other senior U.S. officials, Hussein will receive an honorary degree Thursday from Georgetown University. He also had scheduled a television interview and a public meeting here Friday and had planned to go to California for a private visit, but Jordanian sources said last night that Hussein might return home after the Georgetown ceremony.
His reasons for cutting the visit short were not immediately clear. But some non-Jordanian Arab sources said it was their understanding that Hussein was miffed by the senior official's cautions against expecting dramatic results and also wanted to avoid reporters' questions about his meetings with Reagan.
Difficulties have arisen over the naming of Palestinian representatives acceptable to the PLO and Israel and the United States. After conferring with Hussein in Amman on May 12, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said "some headway" had been made but "many difficulties" remained.
The United States has said it will meet with a joint delegation if its Palestinians are not PLO members and if U.S. officials see signs that its formation would result in direct talks with Israel. At the time of Shultz's visit to Amman, the Jordanians, apparently seeking to pressure Arafat, sought to give the impression that a list of potential Palestinian representatives had been given to the United States.
"We have discussed individuals with whom we might meet on a for-example basis, for instance, but there is no definitive list in our hands," the senior official said yesterday.
Other U.S. officials went further, saying that some Palestinian names had been floated in earlier contacts with the United States, but as one official put it, "They were all instant non-starters in terms of their acceptability to Israel."
These other officials contended that while Hussein appears anxious to find a basis for negotiation, much of the effort on the Arab side has been focused on trying to persuade the United States to ease its refusal to recognize the PLO and to put pressure on Israel to negotiate with Palestinians who have PLO ties.
Another subject certain to be discussed is Jordan's long-delayed desire to buy U.S. arms, including high-performance aircraft, helicopters and mobile surface-to-air missiles. However, administration sources indicated that unless there is progress toward direct talks with Israel, Congress is almost certain to block such a sale.
The senior official recalled that the administration decided in February to delay all major new Mideast arms sales pending a study of the military balance in the region. He noted that the study is incomplete and said: "No decisions have been taken on new arms packages coming out of that."