The unabashedly pro-American President of Egypt may be weighing a gradual reconciliation with the Kremlin. President Anwar Sadat booted out some 16,000 Soviet advisers nearly a decade ago, began wooing the Americans, and has since been trumpeting that the United States holds "99 percent of the cards" in any successful Middle East peace.
The consensus among Cairo experts said that Mr. Sadat will stick with those odds at least through US election day in November.
Relations with the Soviets have cooled further since the Egyptian leader signed a US-mediated peace treaty with Israel, with Egyptian and Soviet embassy staffs in Moscow and Cairo sharply trimmed. The egyptian President also bitterly denounced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan late in 1979.
But Mr. Sadat has made no secret of his dejection over the deadlock in US-sponsored Palestinian autonomy talks, nor of his suspicion that Washington could do more to lean on Israel for negotiating concessions.
Should these peace efforts remain stymied well past the US presidential elections, some Egyptian and Western analysts are arguing, a gradual rapprochement with Moscow could not be ruled out. Some analysts add that this would probably take the form of support for joint superpower peace efforts in the Middle East, rather than an outright swerve into the Soviet camp.
It is in his despondency over blocked US peace efforts that Mr. Sadat has begun denting longstanding Western skepticism that Egypt could ever patch up its bitter feud with Moscow. Among the apparent signals are:
* He told an interviewer earlier this year that "for every step they [the Soviets] take" toward rapprochement, he "will take two."
* He dispatched his minister of state of foreign affairs, Mustafa Khalil, and later, Egyptian Vice-President Hosni Mubarak to Bucharest in what Cairo officials termed a show of interest in a new Romanian initiative for Arab-Israeli peace.
The Romanian plan was said to involve a UN peace parley jointly chaired by the US and the USSR, an idea already supported by Jordan's King Hussein. King Hussein has been boycotting current US negotiating moves in the Middle East, contributing to Mr. Sadat's isolation within the Arab world.
Obstacles to an Egyptian-Soviet second honeymoon remain.
Mr. Sadat, however masterful at diplomatic surprise, presumably has stuck with the "US option" on Middle East peace for too long, sacrificing too much, to switch directions before that route has proven unquestionably, totally blocked.
And the Soviets, although believed anxious to challenge a virtual US monopoly in recent Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts, may prove reluctant to revive a relationship with Egypt that has brought them so much trouble.
One Kremlin heavyweight reacted coolly in private to Mr. Sadat's remarks about matching one step with two in an eventual rapprochement with the Soviets, according to an Egyptian diplomat based in Moscow. The Soviet official's reported retort:
"For every 10 steps Mr. Sadat takes, we may take one."
Moreover, the idea of a UN conference reportedly has met at least initial Soviet reluctance. Moscow, UN sources have told the Monitor, appears leery of setting a precedent of UN intervention that could be applied to the Afghanistan crisis.
Under Mr. Sadat's radical predecessor, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Egypt and the Soviet Union drew steadily closer in the 1950s and 1960s.
But not long after gaining power in 1970, President Sadat began exploring the potential value of US influence in securing an acceptable settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Mr. Sadat also began bridling over what he saw as Soviet heavy-handedness and Soviet reluctance to provide military aid to Egypt in sufficient quantities and speed.