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Egyptians disappointed with Reagan team's outlook on Mideast talks

By Olfat M. El TohamySpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 10, 1980



The Egyptian government has reached out to the incoming Reagan administration -- and been given half a loaf. This consists of an assurance that the United States remains committed to a Mideast settlement along the lines of the Camp David agreement. In effect, the Egyptians have temporarily pushed Jordan's King Hussein aside in getting to the incoming American team.

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But the delegation of leading Egyptian officials that has just left Washington is still hoping eventually to get the other half loaf: a clear indication of how and when the Reagan people would get the deadlocked talks on Palestinian autonomy under way again.

In particular, Egypt wanted to see a tripartite US-Egypt-Israel summit conference scheduled, as foreshadowed by the Carter administration before the US election.

But a ranking aide of the President-elect told the Monitor that the top-level meeting can take place only after President-elect Ronald Reagan gets acquainted with Egyptian President Sadat and a formula ensuring the success of such a meeting is put together.

More disappointing to the Egyptians were indications they received that the incoming administration, once in office, will not fully assume the responsibilities of the role Mr. Sadat tailored for the US as the prime mover in Middle East peace efforts.

A ranking Egyptian peace negotiator charged that with Israel "the United States has always used the carrot . . . never the stick." But Richard Allen, the President-elect's senior foreign policy adviser, said in an interview with U.S. News and World Report that "Israel should not be forced to give up the West Bank and Gaza under duress. . . . Security arrangements cannot be dictated by the US."

"Egyptians are making a mistake by their excessive reliance on the US," Herman Eilts, former ambassador to Egypt and now a professor at Boston University, commented. "This has produced dividends in the past, but since the autonomy talks started it has only resulted in disappointment."

Many Egyptian officials who expected Mr. Reagan to make a dramatic gesture to unravel the Mideast puzzle already are disappointed. Most of them say the Reagan team is taking its time, and Egypt will have to wait for a well-defined US direction on three main issues of concern:

* The Middle East's priority on the new administration's list of foreign policy concerns. There is fear that within the framework of a global strategy, the region will be primarily regarded as one of confrontation with the Soviet Union.

* Egypt's status as an ally of the US. It is believed by some analysts that Israel, presenting itself as a stable regime that can offer the US military bases, will maintain an indisputable first position, Arab oil suppliers will come second, followed by Egypt promising temporary military facilities.

* Egypt's input into the peace process and its ability to influence its outcome. This can be seriously challenged if Mr. Reagan allows Jordan's King to step in as the spokesman for the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In an effort to prevent this, Egyptian diplomats are likely to continue trying to persuade the US that it is in its best interest to maintain stability in the region by using its superpower leverage to solve the Palestinian problem, and making use of the military facilities offered by Egypt to safeguard its interests in the area.

The Egyptian leadership has not discarded the possibility of Jordanian participation in the peacemaking efforts. Indeed, a West Bank federation or confederation has long been regarded as the most viable solution to the Palestinian problem. Yet, according to the Egyptian scenario, all efforts must be exerted by the Camp David trio to work out a formula laying the foundation for that, and allowing Egypt to "control and check the excesses," as an Egyptian official put it.

Egypt may have to wait until the end of next year to realize its goal. Mr. Reagan's assistants need time to study and assimilate the complexities of the Middle East before they take up the problems of the area, and Israel is considered unlikely to settle on its next government before November of next year.