Iraq's battlefield losses nudge post-Sadat Egypt closer to Arab fold

Recent Iranian success in the war between Iran and Iraq has set off alarm bells throughout the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries - and speeded up a thaw in relations between Egypt and this part of the Arab world.

''Egypt is the only Arab country truly capable of aiding Iraq,'' said a ranking Arab official.

With little hope for a mediated end to the Gulf war, Arab diplomats say Saudi Arabia - determined not to allow Iraq to lose the war - will join the smaller Gulf states in providing Iraq further funds to continue the war. But these diplomats say they also expect Egypt to play an increasingly significant role in aiding Iraq.

Egyptian diplomats agree that the Gulf war may serve as a catalyst for Egypt's return to the Arab fold. These recent developments also indicate a shift in relations between post-Sadat Egypt and other Arab states.

* United Arab Emirate President Sheikh Zayed, in an recent interview published in Kuwait, called on the Arab states to give Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak time to bring Egypt back into close alignment with the Arab world. Last month the ruler of Bahrein Sheikh Hamad Issa Khalifa was quoted in a similiar vein.

* An official Egyptian delegation is participating in the non-aligned coordination bureau meeting in Kuwait. Last month an official delegation took part in a conference of labor ministers in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

It was the first time an Egyptian delegation was officially present at a conference held in the Arab world since the falling out over Egyptian participation in the Camp David peace process.

Arab diplomats explain the fact that Egypt's delegation to the Kuwait conference is headed by UN Ambassador Ismat Abdul Meguid and not by Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali as a means of avoiding a provocation of Israel before its scheduled April 26 withdrawal from the Sinai.

The non-aligned coordination bureau is officially restricting its meeting in Kuwait to the Palestinian problem. Because of the hard-line draft resolution being discussed, Egypt is said to have chosen a lower level of participation.

Economic relations between Egypt and the Gulf states has also considerably improved during the last year. Egypt's balance of trade with Kuwait, for example , doubled last year. Compared to 1980, Gulf tourism to Egypt has increased by almost 30 percent. Egypt is now actively soliciting Gulf investors.

''We are witnessing an exchange of goodwill,'' said one Arab official, ''the first time this has happened.''

After Iran's battlefield victory and the announcement that Iraq was ''redeploying'' its Fourth Army, Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz followed Jordanian King Hussein to the Iraqi capital. He was expected to continue on to the North Yemeni capital of Sanaa at the head of a Saudi ministerial delegation.

Prince Sultan's visit to Baghdad coincided with the arrival of a special envoy of North Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Salih in the Iraqi capital. North Yemen has committed volunteers to fight alongside Iraq against Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Republic.

The Gulf war is expected to figure prominantly in the talks between Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Jabir Ahmad Sabah and United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Zaid Bin Sultan Nahayan, who is in Kuwait this week for an official three-day visit.

Gulf officials accuse Iran of attempting to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states.

While Iran and Saudi Arabia are embroiled in a bitter war of words, ranking Iranian officials have been assuring the smaller Gulf states that the Islamic Republic respects their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, en route to Kuwait to attend the three-day coordination bureau meeting of the non-aligned countries, stopped for several hours in Abu Dhabi April 4 to convey this message to Sheikh Zayed.

The Iranian foreign minister said he welcomed ''neutral and objective efforts'' to end the war. But Mr. Velayati gave no indication that Iran would soften its demands that Iraq withdraw its troops from Iranian soil prior to negotiations, publicly acknowledge that it is the aggressor in the Gulf war and compensate Iran for war damage - demands hitherto rejected by Iraq.

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