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US mending Mideast fences

By Daniel SoutherlandStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 29, 1983


The Reagan administration's plans to strengthen American cooperation with Israel are causing alarm in Arab nations friendly to the United States. ''It is a matter of deep concern,'' says Clovis Maksoud, a Lebanese who is chief representative here from the 22-nation League of Arab States.

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Dr. Maksoud argues that the administration, by apparently leaning even more than previously in favor of Israel through increased aid and other forms of cooperation, may undermine its ability to ''broker'' a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Concern has also been voiced by a leading diplomat from Saudi Arabia, a key oil-producing nation with which the US has close ties. In a speech delivered at Georgetown University on Nov. 22, Saudi Arabia's new ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar ibn Sultan, warned of what he described as a growing skepticism in the Middle East about America's ability to bring about peace in the region.

The warnings came on the eve of Yitzhak Shamir's first visit here as Israel's prime minister. Mr. Shamir met with President Reagan Monday at the beginning of a two-day series of meetings which is expected to result in enhanced US-Israeli cooperation in a variety of fields. Lebanon was expected to be the focus of the talks.

On Thursday, Lebanese President Amin Gemayel meets with Reagan to present his ideas for resolving the Lebanon crisis. As the 1984 presidential campaign approaches, some Reagan administration officials are reported to be arguing that a way must be found to withdraw the American marines now stationed in Lebanon before the middle of that election year. Polls indicate that many Americans oppose the marines' presence in Lebanon and fear that it could lead to a wider conflict.

The warming in US-Israeli relations comes after a lengthy period of strains involving Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, its invasion of Lebanon, the siege of Beirut, and former Prime Minister Menachem Begin's rejection of President Reagan's Sept. 1, 1982, proposal for a comprehensive Middle East peace. The upturn in relations appeared to begin in May of this year when Secretary of State George P. Shultz negotiated an agreement between Israel and Lebanon on the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Shared concern about Syrian ambitions appears to be the main factor bringing the Americans and the Israelis closer together. But Arab diplomats, such as Clovis Maksoud and Prince Bandar, indicate that political considerations may also be at play. By strengthening ties with Israel and accommodating Israel's requests for more favorable terms for aid, President Reagan could win points with the influential American Jewish community which might be useful during a reelection campaign.

What Prime Minister Shamir most desires at the moment, it appears, is agreement on more favorable terms for American aid and on enhanced ''strategic cooperation'' with the United States. The latter might include joint US-Israeli naval maneuvers and the stockpiling of American supplies in Israel.