A top Reagan Administration official broke off from travels with Vice President George Bush to pursue "an opportunity to make some progress" on one of the issues stalling the Middle East peace process, the vice president said today.
Bush said that Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy had left his entourage and that, "We are taking up again an active pursuit of some solution."
He refused to provide any details, saying he was not at liberty to discuss them.
In Cairo, during a one-hour airport stopover on his way to Israel, Murphy said, "We are looking for ways to restore the momentum in the (peace) process."
'Catalyst for Peace'
Bush said the "diplomatic efforts that he will be engaged in would not be helped by premature discussion about them. But we want to be a catalyst for peace there."
"Let's just hope that some reason will prevail and that the Palestinian question will get settled and that people could live at peace there," the vice president said. "We just have to keep pushing every way we can."
Murphy, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, left Bush's party in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, some time before Bush departed there Monday for Bahrain.
Bush's national security adviser, Donald Gregg, said Murphy undertook the mission because "there is a chance to make an incremental improvement in a central issue, Arab-Israeli relations, that kind of thing."
Murphy had been scheduled to accompany Bush on his travels to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, and North Yemen.
Gregg told reporters "there were indications from contacts" in the Middle East recently that needed to be pursued.
"There seemed to be an opportunity to make some progress on one of the issues that had been hung up for some time and that was why he was pulled away to do it," Gregg said. He also refused to elaborate.
Later in the day, Bush told U.S. sailors their presence in the Persian Gulf blunts Soviet influence and warns potential troublemakers "they'd better think twice."
Sailors' Role Praised
Bush visited the LaSalle, the command ship of a naval task force that has patrolled the gulf since June, 1983, to stress U.S. warnings against any expansion of the 5 1/2-year-old Iran-Iraq War.
Standing on the flight deck of the vessel, known as the "Great White Ghost of the Arabian Coast," Bush told the sailors, "The fact that you're here helps friendly countries resist Soviet attempts to gain influence, gain dominance in this area.
"The fact that you're here is a warning to anyone who might even be thinking of fundamentally disrupting this area that they'd better think twice . . . and if that doesn't stop them, then they'd better think again."
Before visiting the ship, Bush met with U.S. businessmen and predicted oil prices will recover after plummeting 60% since November.
"I think you're going to see some kind of recovery," he said. "I think it is essential."