President Carter's admitted foul-up of the US vote on a United Nations resolution is emerging as a major political issue. His opponents, particularly Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, are saying his zigzag foreign- policy course illustrates Mr. Carter's lack of direction all across the board.
The controversial March 1 vote, in which the United States joined other members of the UN Security Council to unanimously condemn Israel for establishing settlements in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, was disavowed by Mr. Carter March 4. The President said his instructions on the matter had been misunderstood. In the past, the US has abstained from joining in similar UN votes.
But within the US Jewish community there is little evidence that the President's disavowal has dispelled Jewish antagonism toward him.
And within the Kennedy camp hopes are being expressed that the senator now has the issue he needs to conduct his industrial state strategy.
Kennedy aides now think the senator may be able to make a respectable showing in the Illinois primary (March 18), win in New York (March 25), and then go on to victories in big Northern states like Pennsylvania (April 22), Michigan (April 26), and Ohio (June 3), and then in California (June 3).
Within the White House, Carter aides are conceding the political damage the issue has caused, but are saying they think the furor over it will die down, particularly if the President continues to win primaries and caucuses.
The President's campaign chief, Robert Strauss, talking to reporters over breakfast March 6, said that "obviously there is political damage in this. . . . Obviously this was a foul-up and an embarrassing one."
But, perhaps in an effort to shift the spotlight away from the administration's gaffe, Mr. Strauss also made a rather startling forecast:
He said that in the next 12 days the President "will do so well" in primaries and caucuses in 11 states and Puerto Rico that "he will set the stage for a noncontested convention."
Mr. Strauss said that during that period the President would "demonstrate that he will be able to go to the convention with the majority of delegates."
Did he mean that Mr. Carter would score so impressively in those 12 days that Senator Kennedy would have to drop out? Mr. Strauss would not go that far. But his forecast did seem to imply that the President would soon push Mr. Kennedy out of contention.
But while Mr. Strauss was trying to limit the UN-vote fallout, the issue continued to gain ground.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings next week in which the administration will be asked to clarify its Israeli policy.
The committee will doubtless ask for evidence to back up the President's contention that the US vote in the UN "was an error that had resulted from a breakdown in communications."