Kremlin will shed no tears for America's friend Sadat

The Kremlin will shed no tears for Anwar Sadat. The Soviets may send some cool official condolences to Cairo. And some Moscow officials probably hope that the new Egyptian leadership will prove less unfriendly than Mr. Sadat. If so, there is little doubt the Soviets would reciprocate eagerly.

But, at a time of heightened superpower rivalry over the Mideast, the Kremlin is hardly likely to be dismayed by the passing of a prime United States ally like Mr. Sadat.

To Americans, he was a peacemaker.

To Moscow, he was the man who, beginning in 1972, delivered a succession of slaps to Soviet pride, prestige, and influence in the Mideast.

First, he booted out nearly 20,000 Soviet military advisers. Then he began sidling up to Washington as part of a push for a negotiated settlement with Israel. He tore up a friendship pact with Moscow. He shut down various other Soviet offices in Egypt, the most populous and powerful state in the Arab world.

Finally, last month, he expelled about 1,000 more Soviet citizens, ordering Moscow's presence trimmed to a handful of embassy officials.

There was a yet unkinder cut to come. Included in the most recent expulsion were Soviet engineers helping to maintain the giant Aswan Dam, erected with Moscow's help in the 1960s and once portrayed as an enduring symbol of Soviet-Egyptian friendship. Later press reports said the US would help install replacement turbines for the dam.

But Mr. Sadat did more than merely sting Soviet pride.

For Moscow, he was also something of a point-man in what is perceived as widening US encroachment on a region that, officials here like to point out, is closer to Soviet borders than to American ones.

Largely through Mr. Sadat's offices, Moscow felt, the US has come nearly to monopolize Arab-Israeli diplomacy. Moscow has been left on the sidelines. Worse, in Soviet eyes, the Egyptian President fell in with US plans for a rapid-deployment capability in the region.

His death, even with no guarantee that his successor will be much different, means the Americans' chief nemesis in the Arab world, Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi, has outlived their best friend there.

Whether, as Mr. Sadat charged when kicking out his latest batch of Russians, the Soviet Union was actively trying to topple the Cairo regime is impossible to say.

Publicly, the Soviets have been playing all angles in recent months to seel their primary goal of countering US influence in the Mideast. This has meant stressing close ties with Mr. Sadat's more vocal Arab foes, trying to woo more moderate Arabs away from Washington and, more recently, reestablishing open contract with Israel.

Mr. Sadat's murder may not even have been part of that strategy, but it surely does not contradict it. If nothing else -- and there was much else -- Soviet pride was stung. The Egyptian President liked to call men in the White House "my friend."

There is an old Arab saying that, as slightly adjusted, seems appropriate here: "A friend of my enemy is my enemy."

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