US credibility hammered in Arab eyes by Iran deal. Reports could bolster Arab push for Soviet role in Mideast peace

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The ongoing revelations of United States arms deliveries to Iran have clearly come as a major embarrassment to Arab friends of both those countries. Pro-Western Arab nations such as Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait have publicly criticized the US move, saying it has a negative effect on US credibility in the region. Saudi Arabia, a vital US Arab friend, has been officially silent but is reportedly furious at the disclosures.

Syria - Iran's main Arab ally - has imposed a news blackout on the revelations, which have also been played down by Libya. Both these vocal and hard-line Arab states are apparently embarrassed at suddenly finding themselves bracketed with their US and Israeli adversaries as suppliers of arms to Tehran.

The Arab nations closest to the US are also those which have supported Iraq most strongly in its war against Iran, seeing the Iranian threat as a menace to stability in the Gulf and throughout the Arab world.

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Analysts in the region say one effect of the disclosures may be to increase the Arab moderates' conviction that reliance on the US to deliver a Mideast peace settlement was misplaced and that they should continue to insist on greater Soviet involvement in peace efforts.

That disillusionment is apparently what persuaded the Arab moderates earlier this year to abandon reliance on US-sponsored Mideast peace moves and insist on an international conference with Soviet participation.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein, who met this past weekend, warned the disclosures could damage US ties with Arab nations.

The strong support which countries like Egypt and Jordan have given to Iraq throughout its six-year-old war with Iran has magnified their feeling of being let down by Washington, whose official policies, like theirs, see Iran as an intransigent threat to regional security.

These Arab countries do not appear to accept President Reagan's explanation that the secret dealings and arms deliveries were aimed at halting the Persian Gulf war. ``What has happened will not help end the war, but in my view will escalate it, threatening not only Iraq but the whole Arab world,'' King Hussein said.

The Arab Gulf state closest to the war zone, Kuwait, echoed the same view in a statement Sunday. Kuwait was the first Gulf state to break official silence. Saudi reluctance to announce a public position on the affair has stirred speculation about the Saudi attitude.

The speculation was fueled by the Saudis' sudden change of oil policy in recent months to align with Iran's insistence on higher oil prices - an insistence reportedly conveyed to the Americans in Tehran's secret contacts with them. The Saudis are reportedly supplying Iran, through traders, with large quantities of refined petroleum products, needed by Iran because of successful Iraqi attacks on Iranian refineries in recent months.

While acknowledging that King Fahd's adoption of the goal of higher oil prices came under US pressure and may have been part of a US understanding with Tehran, informed sources rule out the possibility that Riyadh may have condoned the supply of US arms to Iran.

``The Saudis are very afraid of Iran, and hate and fear the Shiites,'' said one source. ``It's not believable that they knew of the arms deals in advance.''

The Saudis' US ambassador reportedly held a heated meeting with Mr. Reagan's former national security adviser, Vice-Adm. John Poindexter, after the news had been confirmed. Reliable sources say the ambassador expressed his strong distrust of US policies.

Saudi officials denied Monday that they had sold quantities of refined petroleum products to Iran. But oil industry sources insist that since July, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been selling refined products to Iran through commercial traders. But sources do not read great political significance into what they see as an essentially commercial transaction. Arab Gulf states maintain diplomatic and other ties with Iran. It would be hard for them to prevent such indirect oil sales. Tehran might view such a prohibition as hostile.

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