Egypt tries to polish its nonaligned image

Egypt is resolutely seeking to restore evenhandedness to its relations with the superpowers - without sacrificing its friendship with the United States.

The aim is to polish its image as a nonaligned country and so improve its international standing badly hurt by late President Anwar Sadat's exclusively Western-oriented approach to the world.

Denying that renewing interest in the non-Western world indicated a change in policy, and stressing Egypt's adherence to nonalignment, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Butros Ghali views it as a ''new emphasis'' forced by international and regional circumstances. The circumstances include the crisis of detente, the interruption of the North-South dialogue, as well as a drift toward polarization in this part of the world.

Egypt has lately not hesitated to welcome overtures from the Soviet Union and Libya. The Soviets offered to send 66 technical experts back to Egypt, and Libya opened its common border with Egypt temporarily for families of Egyptian teachers who wanted to return home. Egypt now seems decided on ''cleaning up the dust,'' as a ranking official put it, to reestablish normal dealings with the Kremlin and its friends in the area.

This means Egypt may be ready to import more technical - but not military - Soviet advisers, and accept any Soviet-initiated gesture to supply it with spare parts for Russian-made tanks and jet fighters still making up the backbone of Egypt's armed forces.

Few analysts expected that Egyptian-Soviet relations would recover so quickly; they had reached an all-time low shortly before Sadat's death last fall. And relations have been ''difficult,'' according to Dr. Ghali. The Russian ambassador, most of the embassy staff, and the Russian technicians who were left after the major break in 1977 were expelled for spying and interfering in Egypt's domestic affairs. But, Dr. Ghali points out, ''before the last crisis we had concluded a cultural agreement that nobody noticed and trade has always existed.'' That trade was valued at $300 million last year.

The return of Moscow's envoy to Cairo can only take place after April 25, since the Egyptian leadership insists there will be no ''sensations'' before the Israeli-occupied Sinai is returned Egypt. Looking forward to this event, Dr. Ghali is optimistic it will add a ''dynamic'' dimension to Egypt's foreign policy.

There is a consensus among President Mubarak's aides that Egypt's new independent, pragmatic line and changes emerging from it should be coupled with adequate preparation and characterized by subtlety.

''A new drive in the nonaligned movement does not mean at all we want to have less good relations with the US,'' Dr. Ghali says. ''On the contrary, we believe that our relations with the US are very important.''

Although pressure to relinquish Egypt's commitments toward the US and to become socialist oriented has always existed in nonaligned circles, Dr. Ghali said Egypt intends to defend a ''flexible'' view of relations with superpowers, while offsetting the balance within the nonaligned movement in favor of moderation.

Hermann Eilts, former US ambassador to Cairo, agrees with Egyptian foreign policymakers that a move toward upgrading Soviet representation in Cairo ''is just a rectification of a situation that a strong country like Egypt requires. . . . There will be raised eyebrows in some American circles, but that will be a temporary flurry.''

However, Dr. Eilts does not believe a tangible improvement in Egyptian-Soviet relations will necessarily spill over to Arab radicals like Libya, Syria, and Iraq.

''I do not think it will work,'' he snapped. ''The Soviets find their relations with their surrogates very frustrating. . . . The last thing in the world I believe the Soviets could possibly do is to persuade the Syrians or the Iraqis to take any policy including relations with Egypt, because they (the Soviets) want it. The Syrians will do it when they are ready, the Iraqis will do it when they are ready.''

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