Sinai pullout: wedge for active Soviet role?

The Soviet Union is bidding to reenter the Middle East diplomatic arena on the heels of Israel's final withdrawal from Sinai.

The Israeli pullback April 25 is seen by officials here as the logical end point of the US-sponsored Camp David negotiating process.

The officials argue that the Camp David framework cannot provide a resolution of the Palestinian question acceptable to even the most moderate of Arabs - including the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Their evident hope is for a consensus Arab bid, with Mr. Mubarak's participation, for an alternative negotiating approach that will end Moscow's virtual exclusion from the process in recent years.

This is how most diplomats here are reading an official Soviet statement on the Sinai pullout released April 26.

The statement, carried by the news agency Tass, attacked the Egyptian-Israeli treaty arrangement, but focused the criticism on the late President Anwar Sadat rather than on Mr.Mubarak.

''It is believed in the governing circles of the Soviet Union that the 'Sinai (withdrawal) operation,' like other consequences of the Camp David collusion, has nothing in common with the task of establishment of a just and durable peace in the Middle East,'' the statement said.

Repeating recent news media criticism of the multinational troop force now installed in the Sinai frontier area, the statement argued that ''Israeli occupation of the Sinai is (being) replaced by American occupation.'' The US is providing about half the manpower, and 60 percent of the funds, for the force.

The Soviet statement in effect appealed for a definitive shelving of the Camp David process - portraying it as something of an American-Israeli plot against the entire Arab world - and repeated a year-old proposal for a fresh international peace effort including the Soviet Union.

President Leonid Brezhnev raised the concept in February of last year, at the national congress of the Soviet Communist Party. He said Moscow was ''prepared to participate'' in an international diplomatic move along with Arab states, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel, and the United States.

The Soviet statement April 26 concluded with the declaration: ''This (peace) proposal, which can take the cause of a Mideast settlement onto a realistic and constructive road, still stands.''

The problem for the Soviets, now as in February of last year, is that Washington's alliance and aid relationship with Israel is seen by most of the Arab world as the potential key to any palatable resolution of the Palestine issue.

What may ultimately help the Soviets, diplomats here suggest, is a growing bitterness even among more moderate Arabs over Washington's perceived failure so far to deliver sufficient Israeli concessions for the Palestinians.

Private remarks from Soviet officials suggest Moscow would like to convince both the Americans and moderate Arabs that a Mideast settlement depends on the involvement of both superpowers.

Moscow seems hopeful of using Arab uneasiness with US support for Israel as a lever for gradual improvement of relations with more moderate Arab regimes.

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