Soviets extend olive branch to conservative Arab states

The Soviet Union, having received a guarded political boost from visiting Jordanian King Hussein, has promptly extended an olive branch to other conservative Arab states central to US strategy in the Mideast.

Taken together, the Hussein visit and the public overture to conservative Arab states May 27 seem to suggest Moscow's immediate Mideast goals lie less in reentering the Arab-Israeli negotiating process than in frustrating Washington's attempts to consolidate its military and political influence in the region.

A Soviet reentry into the negotiating process is just plain impossible, at least now. Neither the US nor allied Israel is about to let the Soviets "return to the Arab-Israeli card table," as one Western diplomat puts it. Nor, almost certainly, is Egypt.

But in the meantime, the Kremlin is moving to reinforce already wide uneasiness among more pro-Western Arabs over what is seen as Washington's blinkered pro-Israeli policy -- as well as these Arabs' resultant reluctance to identify themselves too closely with the United States.

The long-range prospects for such a strategy are hard to gauge. But at this writing, Arab and Western diplomats here suggested, the Kremlin was at least managing to complicate Reagan administration efforts to make one pillar of its Mideast policy the curbing of Soviet influence.

King Hussein's visit has offered fresh evidence that moderate Arabs still remain leery of alignment with Moscow, no matter how disgruntled they are over the results of recent US domination of the Arab-Israeli negotiating process.

Since the King's arrival May 26, the official Soviet news media have come close to painting Jordan as an outright Kremlin ally. In what was seen partly as a bid to reinforce that impression, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev unleashed an uncommonly sharp attack on US Mideast policy with King Hussein at his side during a state dinner.

The King, in reply, did back the Soviets' public campaign to challenge US hegemony over Arab-Israeli diplomacy. He explicitly endorsed Mr. Brezhnev's call -- made in February and repeated publicly only days before the Jordanian leader's arrival -- for an international Mideast peace conference.

But King Hussein himself has called for such a parley in the past. And the endorsement was, in effect, softened by his stated support in the address for any other initiative that could lead to an acceptable overall peace, and by the fact he did not directly attack the United States.

King Hussein also differed with the Soviet position on the Iran-Iraq war: an official "neutrality" that diplomats here see as distinctly tilted against one-time Arab ally Iraq.

The published Soviet version of the King's remarks omitted his comments on the war and elsewhere had him referring to the "Persian Gulf," the Iranians' preferred terminology for that body of water.

In a full Arabic text secured by the Monitor, King Hussein in fact spoke of the "Arab Gulf" -- the Arabs' terminology -- and said Iraq had fallen victim to "Iranian aggression." He fully backed the Iraqi war effort as a "just Arab cause."

King Hussein, long friendly with the US, soured on US Mideast policy following Washington's sponsorship of the agreements between Egypt and Israel -- which the King sees as splitting the Arab world and providing cover for continued Israeli occupation of Arab territory (including his own) captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

The carefully crafted Hussein speech is seen by diplomats here largely as a bid to hike pressure on the US to retool this policy. Indeed, the very presence of the traditionally pro-Western monarch in Moscow is seen partly as directed toward that aim.

The significance of the Hussein visit is increased by the fact that the Jordanian leader is emerging as a consensus spokesman for a large chunk of the Arab world, a point he stressed in his dinner speech.

Presumably assuming the King's reasoning might apply in some degree to other moderate and conservative Arab states, the Soviets have begun warming publicly to such parties as the Saudi Arabians, other Gulf oil states, and even, very slightly, to Egypt.

A long commentary May 27 in the Soviet newspaper Literary Gazette, the very vehicle used for suggesting a Soviet-Saudi rapprochement two years ago, highlights uneasiness over US policy on the part of the Saudis, the Jordanians, and the Egyptians.

In boldface, the article says "even conservative" Arab states realize that the genuine danger for them lies not in Moscow -- which, after all, has suggested a peace conference --but in Washington.

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