WASHINGTON -- President Reagan invited three former presidents to the White House today to give them a personal send-off as America's emissaries to the funeral of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.
The historic gathering of Reagan and the three living ex-presidents - Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon -- was scheduled for the South Lawn before the departure of the official U.S. delegation to Sadat's funeral.
On the advice of U.S. security agencies, Reagan is not attending the funeral.Vice President George Bush also is staying home due to the same security concerns.
The three ex-presidents, coming in from different directions, were to arrive at Andrew Air Force Base in early evening and fly by helicopter to the White House for a brief reception hosted by President and Mrs. Reagan. Afterward, they were to return to Andrews to board a presidential jet for the flight to Egypt.
The White House disclosed Reagan's plans to meet with his three predecessors during an Oval Office ceremony to kick off a combined federal fund-raising campaign for 270 social agencies.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig is heading the official U.S. delegation to Sadat's funeral.
In announcing Wednesday that Reagan would not be among the present and former officials and congressional leaders attending, White House aides were vague about the risks involved.
'We're not going to discuss on what precise grounds' the decision was made, said White House communications director David Gergen.
Deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes, asked why Carter, Ford and Nixon would be safe when Reagan would not, said, 'One is the president of the United States and the others are former presidents.'
Among the world leaders scheduled to attend Saturday's funeral are Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Aides said Reagan was 'very sorry' he could not attend the funeral but bowed to their advice.
Having himself been a victim of an attempt on his life, Reagan and his wife Nancy were deeply affected by the violent death of the Egyptian president who they met at the White House last August.
In an unusual gesture to a fallen foreign leader, Reagan ordered American flags flown at half-staff on all public buildings and half-mast on all ships at sea until Sadat's burial in a specially constructed mosque near Cairo.
Only the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammerskjold were accorded similar U.S. honors on their passing.
In a special proclamation Wednesday, Reagan said of Sadat, 'In a world filled with hatred, he was a man of hope. In a world trapped in the animosities of the past, he was a man of foresight, a man who sought to improve a world tormented by malice and pettiness.'
President and Mrs. Reagan attended an ecumenical memorial service Wednesday afternoon at the Washington Cathedral in honor of Sadat.
On another front, Reagan has been spurred by Sadat's death to make a passionate plea for the sale of AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia.
Reagan told a gathering of Republican senators that it was 'particularly important' to keep the friendship of the Saudis 'in the light of the tragedy' of Sadat's death.
Sadat's death bridged the gap between the three former living presidents. Presidential aides recalled that Carter, Ford and Nixon attended the funeral of Hubert Humphrey but rarely get together.
Other members of the U.S. delegation include former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and several congressional leaders.
Accompanying Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., will be Sam Brown, 14, of Liberty, S.C., who was a pen pal of Sadat and visited Egypt at his invitation in 1979.