CAIRO, FEB. 28 -- Egypt today became the first Arab country to signal its backing for the new American peace plan for the Middle East, as Secretary of State George P. Shultz emphasized that he is seeking a comprehensive settlement and not just to quell violence in the territories occupied by Israel.
After three hours of talks with President Hosni Mubarak, Shultz declared, "I think I can say we both feel we have a package and it's promising. At least we think it's promising. Whether anybody else will think it's promising is a question."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismat Abdel Meguid, who was standing next to Shultz, did not speak but nodded his head in agreement. An aide to Shultz said the Egyptians had "no major reservations" but made "some suggestions" for changes.
The Egyptian endorsement came after Syria and Jordan had taken issue publicly with key aspects of the plan yesterday.
Egypt would be likely to play only a secondary, supportive role in the proposed negotiations. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians -- plus, the Americans hope, Syria -- would be the main parties along with the United States.
Egypt, like Jordan and Syria, had been calling for a U.N.-sponsored international conference. Its apparent decision now to support the American approach of playing down such a conference could carry weight with the skeptical Jordanians and Palestinians, officials said.
Shultz's package envisages only a brief "international event" to start the negotiations, hosted by the United States and Soviet Union rather than all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
The plan also calls for negotiations first on interim self-rule for the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A second set of talks, seeking a long-term solution based on the principle of "land for peace," would start within six months.
The Arab states and Palestinians have said Shultz's plan would only succeed in achieving limited autonomy and leave the problem of an overall final settlement unresolved.
Shultz said today, "What we are seeking is a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. That means that we have to consider all the countries involved. We have to consider security issues. We have to consider the Palestinian people, their aspirations, their legitimate rights and we have discussed all these matters in some detail" with the Egyptians.
As in his talk yesterday with Syrian President Hafez Assad, Shultz sketched for Mubarak on paper the "time line" of his plan, showing how the status talks would follow on the initial autonomy negotiations.
Shultz is reported to have suggested that the autonomy talks could start in July, with those on the areas' future due in December, whether or not the first negotiations were completed. With a "date certain," he was quoted as saying, the Arabs would be assured the negotiations would not just concern autonomy for the Palestinians.
Shultz was reported to have had the Egyptian delegation so intrigued by his "time line" sketch that Mubarak, his prime minister, foreign minister and aides were gathered around as he drew.
There had been speculation in the Arab press that Shultz might meet with Palestinians here after their refusal to meet with him Friday in Arab East Jerusalem.
The Palestine Liberation Organization had even approved a list of names for such a meeting, including Palestinians from the occupied territories and those living abroad.
But no such meeting materialized and an aide to Shultz said Mubarak had not even brought up the issue. Shultz has been insisting he will meet with a Palestinian delegation only inside the occupied territories, or in Israel.
In Tel Aviv earlier today, Shultz held another round of talks separately with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The leaders of the Likud bloc and the Labor Alignment, respectively, are at such odds over the U.S. peace plan that Shultz has been unable to meet them jointly.
On Monday, Shultz travels to Amman for a second round of talks with Jordanian officials, aimed primarily at answering the questions about his plan they raised with him yesterday.