Muslim two-step: rap USSR and US
Beirut, Lebanon — A turbulent Islamic world seems to be working out a compromise formula for near-unanimous condemnation of Soviet moves in Afghanistan -- but only by coupling it with criticism of US policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The message for Washington is clear: If President Carter wants to consolidate US influence in the world's major oil region, he will have to get Israel to move toward longtime Arab and Islamic demands for "Palestinian rights."
For even fundamentally pro-Western regimes such as Saudi Arabia -- a leader in the world of oil as in the world of Islam -- this would require some public sign that Israel is ready to roll back on its 1967 annexation of the disputed city of Jerusalem, holy to Muslims as well as Jews and Christians.
But that seemed just about as likely as a prompt Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Arab and Western diplomats maintained as Islamic foreign ministers met in Islamabad, Pakistan, Jan. 28 for the second day.
The first day's debate sometimes verged on the acidic -- a fitting reflection of an Islamic world in turmoil.Key Muslim states are grappling with unrest:
* The latest visible victim is Tunisia, the relatively pro-Western state chosen as headquarters for the Arab League when Egypt was booted out for its peace treaty with Israel. On Jan. 26, a band of some 200 to 300 unidentified guerrillas attacked Tunisia's mining town of Kafsa, southwest of the capital city of Tunis. Who they were and what they wanted remain open to dispute.
The Tunisians hint that the attackers were outsides who crossed from Algeria, a more redical Muslim state that is nonetheless on passably good terms with Tunisia.
Arab press reports suggested the violence more probably was internal -- in that it marked the second anniversary of violent clashes in Kafsa over a nationwide labor dispute.
* Next door, in Morocco, pro-Western King Hassan has long been battling pro-independence forces for the phosphate-rich Western Sahara, which he annexed several years ago in defiance of world (and US) opposition.
Washington -- in what was seen here as stage one of the so-called Carter Doctrine to counter Soviet influence in the Middle East -- now is planning to give the Moroccan King new military aid.
* And trouble brews, or simmers, elsewhere. Iran wallows in revolutionary chaos. Egypt, according to recent Western news reports from Cairo, seems to face escalating unrest from Muslim militants. And in Saudi Arabia itself, Muslim extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's most sacred city, last Nov. 20 and were overpowered only after 14 days of fighting with Saudi soldiers.
On the face of it, the unrest might seem to boost Washington's chances of peddling at least a loose pro-Western alliance on the heels of Moscow's invasion in Afghanistan. Virtually all delegates at the Pakistan conference, including Arab hard-liners riled over presistent US backing for Israel, are at least suspicious of Soviet intentions after Afghanistan.
This was apparent in private conversations between the envoys and Arab journalists. Most of the Muslim countries, led by Saudi Arabia, feel that effective Islamic reaction to the Soviets' move is imperative.
More radical parties, such as Libya and the Palestine Liberation Organization , accused in the conference corridors of "sabotaging" the Islamic parley on behalf of their Soviet arms patrons, want the main emphasis placed on US backing for Israel.
Two Arab states -- Syria and pro-Soviet South Yemen -- did not even show up for the parley, largely inspired by Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi foreign minister rebutted the Libyan position, telling the delegates that Soviet "support for the Palestinian people . . . does not justify its occupation of the territory of another Muslim country."
Still the Saudi-led conservative states -- almost paranoiacly fearful of the potential for Palestinian-sponsored unrest within their own borders -- take the hard-liners seriously.
Even if the Saudis wanted to help President Carter line up some kind of alliance, one veteran Arab diplomat suggested, they cannot afford to do so publicly. Indeed, no less senior an official than Saudi Crown Prince Fahd recently told a (generally unfriendly) leftist daily in Beirut that he would not tolerate Anerican bases on Saudi soil -- and that the results of Egypt's US-sponsored treaty with the Israelis were "miserable."
"The Islamabad conference scenario is becoming clear," a prominent Beirut newspaper editor commented privately Jan. 28. He and other Arab analysts expected a joint condemnation of Moscow and Israel -- almost certainly with a specific rejection of American policy toward the Jewish state.