The Egyptian-Israeli deadlock may well force President Carter again to take a risky plunge into Middle East summitry. Such is the speculation in Washington in the wake of Egyptian President Sadat's decision to suspend negotiations with Israel on Palestinian "autonomy."
Before President Carter makes a move, however, he will be getting advice from his new Secretary of State, Edmund S. Muskie, who, according to one official, has "come on board fast" at the State Department with a forceful "I'm in charge" attitude. Mr. Muskie was to review the Egyptian- Israeli negotiations with Middle East specialists, including the US ambassadors to the two countries, May 12.
There seems to be agreement in the administration that Mr. Muskie is needed to convey a new sense of steadiness in American foreign policy, not only when it comes to the European allies and policy toward Iran but also when it comes to a number of Middle East countries that depend on the US for protection and support. Middle East turmoil, tension, and uncertainty have reached a high level -- all the way from Libya to Afghanistan -- in recent weeks.
Officials also hope Secretary Muskie will convey a sense of steadiness on the home front. They believe that if he succeeds in doing this, the administration will begin getting more credit for what it does right and less criticism for what it does wrong.
Officials argue that the State Department, just prior to Mr. Muskie's arrival on the job, handled two situations with skill: (1) the expulsion of four Libyan diplomats accused of intimidating critics of their country's leader, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, and (2) protests from Saudi Arabia over the showing May 12 on American television of a British film, "Death of a Princess," which the Saudis consider to be disparaging of Islam and of their society.
The dispute with Libya was resolved when that country decided to recall four members of its mission here who had resisted US expulsion orders.
Officials believe, meanwhile, that they have handled the Saudi protest with enough diplomatic tact to have defused that situation.