Saudis want clear US Mideast policy
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's early February swing through three Arab capitals raised a lot of dust in the United States and Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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But Israeli protests over some of his remarks now have been stilled. Reports of Mideast policy differences with Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. have been muffled.
And, according to the official version at least, the mood of the Pentagon (and, incidentally, of the State Department) has become one of cautious satisfaction that the aims of the trip had been achieved.
To Saudi officials, however, things do not look quite so simple.
Saudi officials were glad that Weinberger had started to deemphasize the idea of creating a ''strategic consensus'' linking Israel and the moderate Arabs to the United States in a joint stand against the Kremlin's Red Army. They were glad he now joined them in identifying a threat from internal subversion.
But they still do not see any clear direction emerging in the US's handling of the Arab-Israeli dispute. And the furor that greeted Weinberger on his return left the Saudis embarrassed that the US - who they always counsel other Arabs must be the major midwife to any peaceful settlement in the region - spelled out so plainly commitments to Israel's military superiority.
Looming behind current Saudi attitudes are two urgent and mounting fears:
* That Iran might soon gain the upper hand in its war with Iraq and spread revolutionary chaos down the Gulf.
* That Israeli provocations might pitch the whole Mideast into another war of unpredictable dimensions.
Weinberger went buoyantly into Saudi Arabia with officials in his party talking openly to reporters about possible proposals for developing joint arms factories in the Saudi Kingdom, among other things.
Such optimism could only have been based on the scantiest acquaintance with the kingdom's problems, which include a chronic dearth of trained manpower. It was thus short-lived.
Weinberger was able, however, to sign a private agreement with Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan on conditions for restricting the five Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes the US sold to the Saudis. (At time of writing , however, it was not clear if all the conditions the US administration felt were necessary had been agreed to.)
One Pentagon official also pointed to the agreement Weinberger obtained from his Saudi hosts for the creation of a ''joint committee of cooperation'' on military matters as a real achievement.
But close military cooperation between the two nations has been going on since 1943, even without any formal committees.
What the Saudis welcomed more from their American visitor was some recognition that the immediate threat to the kingdom is not primarily military (except, perhaps, from Israel) but more likely to arise from internal instabilities.
Possibly, the Saudis might have asked Weinberger what further assistance he could provide in checking these more nebulous threats. (The 30,000-man Saudi National Guard, charged with internal security, already receives much training and material from the US.)
The Saudis' own achievements in recent weeks in tightening up loopholes in national security have been important. Following discovery of an alleged coup plot in the tiny Gulf island-state of Bahrain in December 1981, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia signed a joint security pact.
Since then, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have also entered into similar undertakings with their larger neighbor. And the six members of the infant Gulf Cooperation Council have dropped their original pretense that the GCC had no military or security content.