ReaganPresident Reagan stressed today that there is no deadline for Israel and Egypt to reach an agreement on autonomy for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But he expressed hope that by April 26, when Israel is scheduled to complete its withdrawal from Sinai, they will have at least begun work on a “plan for proceeding” with autonomy.

The President, answering questions at a press conference nationally televised from the East Room of the White House, conceded that the autonomy issue is the “toughest problem” in efforts to achieve a Middle East settlement. “We want to help if we can, if we could come up with some idea that might be helpful in the autonomy talks,” he said, but stressed that “we won’t set a deadline.”

He noted, however, that he hoped that by the time Israel leaves Sinai, “we will at least” begin by next April to get down to a kind of plan for proceeding.” The President gave no details of how the U.S. could be “helpful” in reaching an autonomy agreement.

He noted that Secretary of State Alexander Haig was in Israel and Egypt recently on a “fact-finding” mission and said the Secretary would return later but did not give a date. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the Israeli Cabinet Sunday that Haig would be returning to the region on January 28.