CAMP DAVID, Md. -- President Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, secluded in an Idyllic mountain setting, today began efforts to mediate peace in the Middle East.
Carter met with Sadat early today following an initial meeting with Begin Tuesday night hours after the Egyptian and Israeli arrived separately by helicopter. White House officials expected the first meeting of all three men later today in talks that could last 10 days.
The summit, opening on a sparkling autumn-like day, was held in almost total seclusion on the 143-acre Camp David presidential retreat nestled in Maryland's forested Catoctin Mountains.
Carter was mediating a foreign dispute on American soil for the first time since Theodore Roosevelt's successful efforts to end the RussoJapanese war in the early 1900s.
A near total news blackout was clamped on the sessions. The only access by newsmen to the business of the meeting was through the U.S. spokesman, presidential press secretary Jody Powell. And even Powell was unreachable within the sealed-off compound.
The summit opened amid divided comment around the world.
"The name Camp David is symbolic, as the Israeli flag with the Star of David has always, been given preference in Washington to national colors of any Arab country," the official Soviet news agency Tass complained.
Pope John Paul I prayed for "the success of Camp David," urging the leaders to be "farsighted and courageous." The 65-year-old pontiff said he hoped the talks would "open a way toward a just and . complete peace -- one that assures complete satisfaction and without leaving, unresolved such questions as the problem of the Palestinians, the security of Israel and the Holy City of Jerusalem."
The Palestinians -- the key to any lasting Middle East settlement were less hopeful. Demonstrators in the Lebanese seaport of Sidon burned Sadat in effigy and children beat likenesses of Sadat with their fists.
Hard-line Arab leaders including Syria's President Hafez Assad and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat assailed the Egyptian leader and said little would come of the summit.
The problems of Lebanon shadowed the summit, with clashes between right-wing Christian militia and Arab peace-keeping forces threating to boil over into a direct military conflict between Israel and Syria.
At the request of host President Carter there is an almost total news blackout over the talks, which could last as long as 10 days, including a three-day break for the religous holy days of the three leaders over the weekend. Sadat's Islam day of worship is Friday; Begin's Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown Friday and lasts until sundown Saturday; Carter's Christian day of rest and worship is Sunday.
Both Sadat and Begin expressed optimism when they arrived at Andrews Air Force Base for the helicopter ride to Camp David.
Begin ended his brief remarks with a pun in Latin on the traditional Vatican phrase uttered at the successful conclusion of a conclave of the College of Cardinals "Habemus Papum" (we have a pope.) Begin said, "Let us all hope that out of this unique political conclave a day will come when the nations of tne world will say, 'Habemus pacem, we have peace.'"
Sadat said on arrival, "We come here at a crucial crossroads. The challenge is tremendous, but we have no choice except to accept the challenge. We can't afford to fail the hopes of nations all over the world."