Moscow gets long-awaited chance to strengthen ties with Arabs

A delegation to explain Arab peace proposals has arrived here, including the first Saudi Arabian envoy known to have visited Moscow in decades.

Moscow has long wanted to improve ties with the influential, rigidly Islamic, generally pro-Western Saudi regime - and to restore formal diplomatic ties cut in the late 1930s.

Such a step would fit nicely with Soviet hopes to counter increased United States' dominance of the Arab-Israeli negotiating process in recent years.

A further sign of this desire has been the Kremlin's general public support for the Arab peace plan, though followed by release of a Soviet blueprint more explicit on eventual Arab recognition of Israel.

Diplomats here saw the inclusion of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal in the Arab delegation as meant to stress to Moscow the importance attached to the Arab peace plan, drawn up in September.

The diplomats said they assumed Soviet officials might make use of Prince Saud's presence to broach the subject of improved bilateral ties - but also felt visible progress on that front was not likely. Neither Prince Saud nor Soviet officials were immediately available for comment. Saudi leaders, including King Fahd and Prince Saud, have on occasion suggested Moscow could play a role in Mideast negotiating moves.

The delegation to Moscow, headed by Jordan's King Hussein, is one of several sent by the Arab League to present the Arab proposals to world leaders. Another group, also including Prince Saud, met President Reagan in October.

Moscow has already spoken warmly of the Arab proposals and argues they have much in common with a statement of Soviet Mideast policy made shortly after by late Kremlin leader Leonid Brezhnev.

The Soviets have also vocally contrasted both their own policy and the Arab plan to a Reagan administration blueprint announced in early September, envisaging an eventual Jordanian-Palestinian federation as part of Mideast peace.

Both the Jordanians - and, much more guardedly, some Palestine Liberation Organization officials - have signaled interest in the US initiative.

Arab and Western diplomats feel Moscow may want to sound out the delegation on its precise thoughts on the US and Soviet proposals - specifically on the feasibility of grafting of Soviet-Arab proposals to facilitate an expanded Kremlin diplomatic role.

The stay of the delegation may also provide further glimpses into the Soviets' transition from the rule of Mr. Brezhnev.

Soviet party leader Yuri Andropov seems rapidly to have emerged as prime foreign policy voice for the new leadership, an impression reinforced by the announcement late Dec. 2 he had received King Hussein for an exchange of views on bilateral and Mideast question.

Arab diplomats say they will also be watching Soviet statements during the visit to see whether they dwell on the Brezhnev peace blueprint or include expanded policy remarks from Mr. Andropov.

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