THE WORLD FROM... Washington

Be it a more-open Soviet economy or arms control in the Middle East, progress carries a high price tag

THE euphoria, the drama, the sweeping new possibilities to settle old conflicts around the world - many of the foreign affairs endeavors of the Bush administration have held this glow. But from the Middle East to Moscow, American interests in the world have shifted into a decidedly post-euphoric stage.

Not that the United States position is not more secure than ever. It is.

But high ambitions for progress are once again working against a reality that seems stubborn and dogged.

"There is a tendency I've noticed for stories to begin with great drama, with characters of good and evil," says Daniel Pipes, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. "They always become more complex and more differentiated and more agonized.

"We're in that phase now in many stories."

Official Washington is focused on how to secure the peace on two fronts: with the Soviet Union and in the Middle East.

An apparent breakthrough last weekend in settling differences on a treaty to reduce conventional arms in Europe, considered the broadest disarmament agreement yet, is good news for Soviet-American relations and puts a long-postponed Bush-Gorbachev summit back on track.

But that good news just means that the treaty is almost back to where most of the world thought it was last November, when the document was signed in Paris.

That Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is apparently returning to an economic reform agenda is welcome news to Americans. But a year ago, when Mr. Gorbachev was visiting Washington, the euphoria over the opening of the Soviet economy was so high that the telephones to the Soviet desk at the International Trade Commission were jammed for weeks afterward.

Now it appears that a massive Western bailout, rather than an infusion of private investment, is what the Soviets seek.

In the Middle East, President Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker III, have worked tirelessly since the end of the war in the Gulf to use the opportunity for remaking Arab-Israeli relations.

By now, most close observers of the region have concluded that the war changed nothing in the Middle East beyond dealing a major military setback to Iraq.

The president announced during graduation excercises at the Air Force Academy last week a major plan for scaling down both conventional and unconventional firepower in the Middle East. Yet the United States has made a $22 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and is helping the Israelis build a new anti-missile missile system.

"This is going to be one of the cases of unintended consequences," says Dr. Pipes. "If arms control succeeds, then the net effect will be to move arms production into the region."

"I would say the good news is that everything has come out the way we hoped," sums up Michael Mandelbaum of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"But it's going to cost us.

"We can get democracy [in the Soviet Union], but we're going to have to help pay for it. We can be the world policeman, but it's going to cost us."

The news is not all bad on the cost front, however. Of the $54.5 billion US cost of the Gulf war, $42.2 billion has come in as contributions from allies.

Most of the rest is still owed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the slowest countries to pay their tabs.

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