King Hussein of Jordan assured President Reagan in a White House meeting yesterday of his willingness to enter direct peace talks with Israel. But Hussein's continued insistence that the talks be part of an international conference left unclear whether there was any progress toward reviving the peace process.
Reagan was upbeat in praising Jordan for "moving steadily and courageously forward" in the search for peace.
But the two leaders gave no hint of whether a breakthrough is imminent or whether Hussein's remarks were aimed primarily at overcoming congressional opposition to a Reagan plan, announced Friday, to sell Jordan weapons worth as much as $1.9 billion.
Hussein has been adamant in demanding an international conference including the Soviet Union, a forum the United States and Israel have rejected. A State Department official said that "some progress had been made in this area," although he stressed that the situation was "somewhat amorphous and far from nailed down at this point."
The two leaders also gave no indication of resolving Hussein's demand that the United States meet with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation as a precondition for talks between Jordan and Israel.
"I have reiterated Jordan's commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict within the context of an international conference to implement United Nations Security Council resolution 242," Hussein told reporters in a brief White House departure ceremony.
That resolution, passed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory in exchange for tacit Arab recognition of the right of Israel to exist within secure borders.
Referring to a similar pledge that he made Friday before the U.N. General Assembly, the king added: "I repeated to the president what I said in my address to the United Nations three days ago, namely Jordan's unwavering position in condemnation of terrorism, irrespective of its nature and source.
"Jordan condemns violence and is committed to a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are prepared to join all parties in pursuing a negotiated settlement in an environment free of belligerent and hostile acts."
Hussein's condemnation of terrorism, as well as the statement in his U.N. speech about negotiating with Israel "promptly and directly," are thought to have been suggested by the administration to assuage congressional hostility to the proposed arms package.
In June, Congress barred the sale of advanced U.S. weapons to Jordan unless Hussein committed himself publicly to recognize Israel and to negotiate "promptly and directly" with it.
Reagan, stressing the "urgency" of the situation, said he hoped direct talks can begin before the end of the year, echoing sentiments he expressed during Hussein's visit in May. "The time to begin is now," Reagan added.
A senior U.S. official, who later spoke with reporters on condition that he not be identified, said some "headway" had been made in making clearer to the United States Hussein's views on how an international conference should be structured. But when pressed for specifics, the official said, "This is not the place to get into the details."
Hussein has said the international conference should include the five permament members of the U.N. Security Council, including the Soviet Union. U.S. officials say he thinks that this is necessary to give broad international backing to the peace talks. The administration is studying ways in which the form of the idea could be followed, while blocking the outside powers from participation in the negotiations.
The ideas under consideration include having the U.N. secretary general issue invitations to the permanent members with a pre-arranged understanding that they would decline, according to diplomatic sources. Another possibility involves convening a conference that would recess immediately and turn negotiations over to Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
U.S. officials indicated that Reagan and Hussein discussed such options.
The senior official refused to discuss details of the other major stumbling block, the U.S. reluctance to meet with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. However, he hinted that major difficulties remain by acknowledging that there are no plans at present for Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy, the official who would carry out the contact, to make a new trip to the region.
The United States has said it will proceed with a meeting only if it is convinced that it will lead to direct talks with Israel. Secretary of State George P. Shultz also has balked at some of the Palestinians proposed for the delegation because they are regarded as being tied too closely to the Palestine Liberation Organization, with which Israel refuses to deal