Sadat letter to PLO chief seen as attempt to mend links with Arabs

Egypt's President Anwar Sadat appears to be hard at work on reopening his links with the Arab world. Latest evidence of this, according to reliable Arab sources here, is a private letter from Mr. Sadat received this week by Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The letter, it is said, was delivered to the Palestinian leader by Abdul-Rahman Sherqawi, who was visiting Beirut with a delegation from the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization.

Contact between the Egyptian President and the PLO chairman would be the most concrete manifestation to date of the widely rumored desire of Mr. Sadat to repair his ties with other Mideast leaders in the wake of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Mr. Sherqawi reportedly brought the letter to Beirut in the wake of the recent visit of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Egypt. Throughout his current Mideast tour, Mr. Kissinger has repeated his opposition to dealing with the PLO.

But sources close to Mr. Sherqawi have said that Mr. Sadat's letter to Mr. Arafat was an attempt to explain current United States thinking on Mideast issues.

In particular, they say, Mr. Sadat wrote Mr. Arafat that the US would be glad to see the Palestinians accepting Jordan's King Hussein as its spokesman in future peace talks.

"Or if that proved impossible, the Americans could consider aiding a pro-Palestinian coup in Jordan," was Mr. Sadat's interpretation of American thinking, as reportedly expressed in the letter.

There is as yet no indication as to Mr. Arafat's reaction to the epistle from the Egyptian President. But in other respects, the solidarity organization delegation's visit was not totally successful.

Delegation members met for six hours with Mr. Arafat, in addition to Mr. Sherqawi's one-hour private talk. At the conclusion of the plenary meeting, a joint communique was agreed on -- but opposition to its clauses by colleagues of Mr. Arafat not invited to the meetings has prevented its publication so far.

Significantly, the communique contained no open criticism of the Egyptian leader's peace mission with Israel, journalists here say. It merely includes the Camp David and the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement in a list of factors that have "altered the Arab-Israeli balance over recent years."

Although the communique does refer to the PLO in its own favored terminology as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," Mr. Arafat would seem to have made qualitative concessions from the usual PLO line in formulating the statement.

Mr. Sherqawi, Egyptian specialists here point out, is often entrusted by President Sadat with handling discrete contacts with internal opposition leaders or critics abroad.

Egyptian calls for "Arab solidarity" so far have evoked only a weak response from Mr. Sadat's many critics in the conservative Arab camp. At their summit meeting in Amman, Jordan, in November, the conservatives reaffirmed their boycott of his regime.

But while the moderate Arabs still appear reluctant to deal with him, Mr. Sadat apparently has made a leap right into the lions' den of opposition, appealing directly t o his most vocal Arab critics to reopen a dialogue.

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