Israel's aim in sending Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir to Washington is to clarify firsthand American and Israeli positions on lagging peace negotiations in Lebanon.
The visit was suggested by new Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens who as former ambassador to Washington is sensitive to the need for improved Israeli-US communications.
But the US, worried by the sluggish pace of Israeli-Lebanese talks, appears anxious to use the visit to press for a speedier accord. Thus, the US invitation to Lebanese Foreign Minister Eli Salem to visit Washington at the same time, paving the way for a three-way meeting with Special US Envoy Philip C. Habib.
Both Israeli and American officials said the talks were not expected to produce any immediate dramatic results. But a State Department official said they could clear the way for a ''breakthrough'' in the Lebanon negotiations within the next few weeks.
Despite signs of new Israeli flexibility on some issues, Israeli-Lebanese disagreement on key points still appears far too great for any speedy breakthrough.
This was underlined by the Israeli Cabinet rejection this week of Lebanese proposals worked out with Mr. Habib. Before the Cabinet decision, Washington sources were speculating on a possible agreement by Easter. Subsequently, Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Veliotes told a Congressional committee that he expected an agreement on troop withdrawals from Lebanon by this summer.
But that late a date would be a blow to US hopes to demonstrate credibility as a mediator to Jordan's King Hussein whom it is trying to attract into Mideast peace negotiations under US auspices.
Where do the negotiations stand now?
On the key issue of Israeli-manned observer posts in south Lebanon, which Israel is still formally demanding, Israeli sources list a number of security arrangements for south Lebanon which could provide an alternative. These include: joint Israeli-Lebanese patrols (with Israeli soldiers returning to Israel at night); close contact and coordination between the Israeli Army and the Lebanese Army at a high level; Israeli Air Force aerial surveillance of south Lebanon; close intelligence cooperation with Lebanon; and the strong deployment of the militia of Israel's Christian Lebanese ally Maj. Saad Haddad in a 45-kilometer deep security zone above Israel's northern border.