Saudis fret at US delays in making Mideast moves
Beirut — America's friends in the Arab world are worried. They are concerned that the United States administration will not move fast enough toward a lasting solution of the Arab-Israeli dispute. They fear that this foot-dragging may provide new opportunities for the Soviet Union in the region.
And they worry lest a power struggle inside Washington for control of American foreign policy further delay the US Mideast peace search and increase the chances of Soviet gains in the area.
These are the impressions gained from talking with officials of pro-American Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, and from reading the Gulf mass media reports in the wake of US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s Mideast visit.
"Whenever we ask the Americans for help in finding a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli crisis, they tell us to wait," one Gulf official complained.
"We have to wait for the results of the American elections, wait for the results of the the Israeli elections, wait till such and such a minister is chairman of the EC [European Community]. How long can we wait? Do we now have to wait till American policymakers can settle their own differences and start formulating a real policy?"
"We can't wait much beyond summer," a Saudi source stated flatly, confirming other reports from European intermediaries that this was the informal deadline in the Saudis' minds.
And what happens if summer comes and goes with no diplomatic progress on the Arab-Israeli front? An official indicated that then the Saudis could no longer assure even the present tenuous grip they have on potential Mideast trouble spots.
"Soviet agents are everywhere in the region," he said. "The more they are able to point to America giving outright backing to Israel, the stronger their message is heard. We have to have some concrete signs from Washington that our decades of friendship with the US have had some meaning."
(The Syrians, Moscow's main Mideast allies, taunt the Saudis openly that "America does not seek friends in the region -- all she seeks is puppets." Such taunts, in the face of continued US inaction in the Mideast dispute, are starting to strike home.)
Secretary Haig's recent visit to the saudi kingdom and other Mideast states does not seem to have reassured the Saudis that US action is imminent.
The London-based, Arabic-language newsweekly Al-Majalla is a Saudi version of Time of Newsweek. "It is difficult to know the true results of Haig's Mideast tour at the moment," Al-Majalla said this week. "Haig's tour was, in general, a preparation for the talks President Reagan will have with the leaders of the states Haig visited, in Washington later this year. . . ."
"And while we await these future discussions, all eyes should be turned to the White House and the power struggle going on inside it, as well as to international developments," the magazine concluded.
In the same article, Al-Majalla's editor-in-chief had devoted two pages to assessing how Haig's ability to formulate foreign policy was being undercut by disputes with Vice-President Bush and Richard Allen, the national security adviser.
Haig's Saudi hosts also "made clear to him that it is solving the Arab-Israeli dispute, which will halt, in practice, the growth of Soviet influence," the magazine reported.
The Saudis are eager that the US should make at least some offer to the Palestine Liberation Organization moderates and to Syria so that these two are no t swamped in the "growth of Soviet influence" they perceive.