Britain's foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, arrived in Riyadh Nov. 3 hoping to coordinate European and Saudi versions of a Middle East peace settlement. The European Community and Saudi Arabia share much common ground in separate peace plans for the Middle East.
The European plan, called the Venice Declaration of the 10, proposes the withdrawal of Israel to 1967 boundaries and looks forward to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan.
The Saudi plan is an eight-point outline put forward earlier this year by the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Fahd, and has similar aims.
Carrington, current chairman of the EC Council of Ministers, believes there is enough overlap between the two plans to make a new initiative feasible, especially if the West Europeans make it plain that they are not seeking to pump new life into the Camp David approach to peace.
He also believes that President Ronald Reagan's success in getting his AWACS deal endorsed by the United States Senate has improved the atmosphere for making diplomatic progress.
There have been reports for some weeks that the British foreign secretary may at some stage agree to a meeting with PLO chief Arafat, in furtherance of the European proposals. It was even thought that the two might meet in Riyadh Nov. 3 , but Arafat left shortly before Carrington arrived.
The role of the PLO in a new peace process is considered crucial, although it is recognized in both London and Riyadh that this raises problems for President Reagan.
Part of the Carrington mission to Riyadh, where British influence is considerable again after a year or two of friction in the Anglo-Saudi relationship, will also focus on the international peace-keeping force for Sinai.
Britain wants to play a part in the force but knows that Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are unhappy about the project, since they see it as an extension of the Camp David accords. On the other hand President Reagan is keen to have as wide a representation in the force as possible.
The British foreign secretary also wants to convince the Saudis that British participation in the Sinai peace-keeping force would add to the stability of the region.
It is being emphasized in European capitals that there is no attempt afoot either to outflank Washington or to press Reagan unduly hard. On the other hand, the belief appears to be growing that with Egypt under new leadership it is vital to pick up the traces once again in pursuit of a Middle East peace settlement.