President Carter, in his June 17-18 meetings with King Hussein, is aiming at a future role rather than an immediate one for Jordan in Middle East peace talks.
The President and his aides planned no "arm twisting" of King Hussein to join the trilateral US- Egyptian-Israeli talks now. Reports indicating that they might do so were distorted, according to senior US officials.
In meetings with the King, President Carter, Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, and Defense Secretary Harold Brown hoped to share a longer perspective with their visitor.
"It's abundantly clear," said one US aide, "that we differ basically on Camp David. We can't change that." King Hussein has refused to join the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations since their start because he was not consulted about them and because, in his judgment, they cannot deal adequately with the central Palestinian problem.
What concerns US officials is not the counterproductive process of trying to persuade King Hussein otherwise, but rather securing his long- term support for a cooperative peace effort likely to be launched after the US presidential elections in November.
US experts who have spoken with the King recently, and several US policymakers in private conversations, express the belief that it might be possible to focus on the future of the West Bank and Gaza after the five-year "autonomy" period provided for under the Camp David agreements elapses, rather than on the present controversy.
Although Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin has said his country would ultimately claim sovereignty over both areas, the question of sovereignty -- which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its supporters want vested in an independent Palestinian state -- cannot be decided under the Camp David agreements until after the five-year interim period following election of a self-governing council by the local Palestinians.
"The Jordanians," said one American recently in Amman, "seem scarcely to realize that the question of sovereignty is not predetermined by the Camp David accords."
The counterargument, according to Jordanian diplomats, is that Israel has already predetermined the West Bank's future in an almost irrevocable way by seizing about one- third of its total territory and a large portion of its water resources for new Jewish settlements.
It is this process that Jordan wants the US to halt by applying pressure to Israel as a first step toward a possible future new peace conference, which Jordan, the Palestinians, Syria, and the Soviet Union might attend as well as the US, Egypt, and Israel. PLO representatives might sit as Jordanian delegates if Israel refuses to accept them as a separate delegation.
King Hussein is closely aligned with Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Arab states that reject Egyptian President Sadat's agreements with Israel and the resulting US-Israeli-Egyptian Palestinian autonomy talks.This has drastically cut Jordan's need for the US economic and military aid that sustained it from 1955, when the US began to replace Britain as King Hussein's main Western supporter, until after his loss of the West Bank and Jerusalem in the 1967 war with Israel.
Jordan's 70,000-man armed forces, some of the best in the Arab world, have sent troops, trainers, instructor, and advisers to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and North Yemen. Together with thousands of Jordanian and Palestinian engineers, teachers, managers, and skilled technical personnel -- whose departure has created a "brain drain" back in Jordan -- these military personnel play a small-scale, but extremely important, role in helping stabilize pro-Western Arabian Peninsula regimes.
This is one reason why the US has maintained an ongoing (easy-credit) arms aid program to Jordan, worth about $67 million in fiscal 1979 and running to about $50.2 million so far in fiscal 1980. US Indian Ocean defense requirements , say officials, will severely limit military-aid funds for Jordan and other US friends in fiscal 1981.
However, the US is prepared to offer sales of about 100 M-60A3 main battle tanks, supplementing old US Pattons, British Centurions, and some M-60A1s already delivered.
Piqued by what he regarded as heavy- handed past US attempts to get Jordan into the Camp David process and impatient with restrictions on US military aid inspired by Israel's friends in Congress, King Hussein last year ordered 36 advanced Mirage F-1 fighters from France, and about 200 advanced Chieftain main battle tanks, originally built for the Shah of Iran, from Britain.
Jordan also is interested in the proposed new us "FX" export fighter. The US Defense Department has made no selection yet between Northrop's F-5G and a General Dynamics design, but both firms have been authorized to make preliminary sales proposals to Jordan.
Sometime after his Washington visit ends next weekend, King Hussein is due to visit Moscow. Many Soviet overtures to Jordan since 1956 have never resulted in any arms deliveries, although East bloc states have kept a toehold in Jordan through modest technical aid programs and some futile oil- prospecting operations in the past.
Despite his differences with the US, King Hussein has never tried to gain political leverage by threatening to accept Soviet aid.