Washington — With no dramatic breakthrough in Tuesday's primaries in sight, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is understood to be thinking through his next step -- how to respond to President Carter's offer of conciliation?
According to those close to the senator, his "developing intentions" are along this line:
1. Even if he ends up this week with only about one-third of the delegates, Mr. Kennedy will press on.
2. He will become conciliatory, but only after the convention convenes -- and after he has used his delegates as fully as possible as leverage for shaping the platform.
3. While the senator doubtless will accept an "olive branch" phone call from the President sometime during the next week or so, he now plans to turn down any invitation to go to the White House for peace talks.
4. He has no intention of continuing in a to-the-bitter-end struggle that might so divide the party that it would help elect Ronald Reagan and Republican candidates at every level in the fall election.
Says one Kennedy associate: "Kennedy is fully committed to his program -- no doubt about that. Above everything else he wants a party that is committed to humanitarian goals.
"But also he's a professional. He's not going to wreck the party. He'll get everything he can -- and then move to conciliation."
Behind the scenes, the Carter and Kennedy camps are already in the "talking" stage of the peacemaking process.
Robert Strauss for the President and Paul Kirk for Senator Kennedy have had "several" phone conversations, mostly directed at which delegates will sit on the subcommittee that will put together the initial platform draft.
The Carter campaign rhetoric now is moving away from attacking the senator. Instead, his target is Ronald Reagan.
However, the Carter TV advertisements in all of the upcoming primary states remain quite critical of Mr. Kennedy, raising questions about his character. And the senator himself is still hitting the President quite hard, equating Mr. Carter's approach to the economy with that of the Republicans.
It is not clear how conciliatory the President will be with the senator. He already has said that he simply will not allow platform planks that embrace Kennedy proposals such as gasoline rationing and mandatory wage and price controls.
In response to a question Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" as to whether there is too much bitterness now for a reconciliation with Mr. Carter, Mr. Kennedy said: "I have never questioned the personal motivation of the President -- nor will I." He added that the questions he is raising "are based on the issues."
Pressure on the senator to find some kind of rapprochement with Mr. Carter will intensify after the primary season ends Tuesday.
In fact, Carter people even now are orchestrating a "call-Kennedy" operation -- with governors, senator, congressmen, mayors, and other major Democratic officials being asked to telephone the senator on Wednesday to ask him to step out of the race.