Moscow hosts VIP Arabs to offset US Mideast policies
The Soviet Union will be exploring ways of countering Reagan administration policy in the Mideast when Kuwait's foreign minister arrives for talks April 23, Arab diplomats here suggest.
The visit, at the Soviets' invitation, comes on the heels of a Mideast diplomatic swing by US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. --cow media.
The envoy from Kuwait, the one moderate Gulf oil state that has diplomatic relations with Moscow, will be the first senior Arab official to visit since Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev's public bid to reenter the Mideast diplomatic arena two months ago.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah is also the first visitor of an eclectic Arab guest list drawn up by the Kremlin in concert with the Mideast initiative -- including Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and Jordan's King Hussein, traditionally pro-Western but increasingly uncomfortable with the Americans' Mideast policy in recent years.
Soviet officials are more than uncomfortable with United States policy, and are down-right alarmed at signs that Washington is moving to heighten its military profile in the region.
But they also appear fully aware of the potential difficulties in countering US policy there, much less in turning back the clock to the period when Arab-Israeli diplomacy was formally a joint superpower venture.
The official Soviet news media have been emphasizing Moscow's ties with Syria's (regionally isolated) President Hafez Assad and with the Palestine Liberation Organization's (changeable) chairman, Yasser Arafat.
Now, in the wake of the Haig tour, Moscow appears hopeful of probing possibilities for widened influence elsewhere in the region.
President Brezhnev, in his speech to the Soviet Communist Party Congress here Feb. 23, proposed a "specially convened international conference" on the Mideast with Soviet participation.
Mr. Brezhnev left details of the idea vague. Soviet officials have since indicated to foreign diplomats here -- and to this reporter --
"You can't eat a cake before it is cooked," ventured one official privately. "There can be different variations on the idea of an international conference.
"The important part is the starting point: that the [US-sponsored] Camp David approach is not working. It cannot solve the Palestinian problem . . ."
Arab diplomats add that it is hard to visualize a renewed East-West approach to the Palestinian problem without US acquiescence, something that now seems unlikely.
They expect that in talks with the Kuwaiti foreign minister -- and with further Arab visitors -- Moscow will seek to explore and encourage wide regional uneasiness over US policy as a potential means of nudging Washington in the direction of an international approach to the Mideast problem.
Kuwait is seen as an important go-between in this process.
Accompanying the foreign minister will be one of the Arab world's most prominent diplomats, former Kuwaiti United Nations Ambassador Abdalla Bishara.
Kuwaiti sources say the Moscow talks, the first to be held here between the countries' foreign ministers since 1975, will deal with a wide range of issues, including the recent Soviet Mideast proposals.
After that visit, Kuwait became the first moderate Arab oil state to purchase Soviet arms. But Kuwaiti sources say there is no indication now that further such arrangements will emerge from the upcoming visit.
The renewed violence in Lebanon -- and a recent Kuwaiti offer to host peace talks among the combatants there -- is seen as likely to come up in the talks.
Diplomats here have reported indications that the Soviet Union feels that problem, too, could figure in its suggested international talks.