Egypt awaits Haig visit with plenty of questions on Mideast issues
Cairo — The Reagan administrations's new top priority concern about the soviet Union in the Middle East is getting a qualified welcome in Egypt. Foreign Ministry officials here are anxious to know just how far into the background the new United States administration is prepared to push the Palestinian issue in its zeal to counter any Kremlin moves.
With the recent announcement by the State Department in Washington that its highest priority in the Middle East is to "arrest the deteriorating position of the West vis-a-vis the Soviet Union," Egyptian officials await the visit to Cairo next month of US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. with great interest and, in some cases, concern.
"We just don't know whether the priorities are based on the right assumptions or not," one senior Foreign Ministry planner says. "We don't know where the Palestinian question fits into the strategic picture."
The wrong assumptions, he says, hold that the Palestinian movement is irrevocably controlled by the Soviet Union and that Israel, as the strongest state in the region militarily, will be America's most effective ally in combatting Soviet influence there and elsewhere in the Arab world.
Egyptian officials contend that if the Soviet Union enjoys the respect of many in the Arab world, it is because of its vigorous diplomatic support of the rights of the Palestinians.
The United States, by contrast, is often received with hostility and suspicion because of what is regarded here as its failure to take the Palestinian cause seriously.
In Egypt, then, Secretary Haig is likely to hear a lot about the Palestinians and the pressing need to settle their grievances if the Middle East is to remain stable and free of big-power rivalry.
The Egyptians, nonetheless, are quite content to postpone resumption of the Camp David-based Palestinian autonomy talks until late summer, several months after the anticipated defeat of Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the June 30 elections in Israel. President Anwar Sadat, who is preparing to meet President Reagan in July or August, says it would not be practical to resume negotiating with Israel in the midst of an electoral campaign.
Putting off the talks until the summer, of course, may mean that both Egypt and the US will be able to avoid dealing any further with Mr. Begin, a man blamed by many here for the current stalemate in the dialogue to secure self-rule for the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip.
What Egypt clearly does not want, however, is for the Reagan administration to lose sight completely of the Palestinian dilemma as it pursues its strategy of confronting Soviet influence throughout the world.
hat is a concern Mr. Haig is also certain to encounter in Saudi Arabia, which he plans to visit after Egypt. According to one Egyptian diplomat, the Saudis will never be secure enough in the Arab world to offer the United States either the diplomatic backing or the military facilities it may seek -- until the Palestinians have been satisfied.