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Arabs say EC overture on PLO 'not enough'

Arab reaction to the latest European Community (EC) declaration on the Mideast has been muted, but generally more favorable than had been expected. The warmest official Arab view was that expressed by Jordan's Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Sharaf, who said: "The declaration constitutes a positive step on the right path."

But reflecting the deep reservations remaining in the conservative Arab camp, Abdul Hamid Sharaf warned that the declaration "is not on its own enough to achieve progress toward peace in the region."

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The declaration was issued at the conclusion of the EC summit in Venice June 13, and spelled out for the first time in official EC utterances that "The PLO [ Palestine Liberation Organization] . . . will have to be associated with the negotiations."

The PLO itself evinced a surprisingly mild reaction to the Venice declaration , considering that previous speeches by PLO leaders had condemned it in advance as "a mere cover for the Camp David process."

A similar view was expressed by the government of the small but influential Gulf state of Kuwait, generally a loyal supporter of the PLO's cause.

As is usual, no official view has yet emerged from the PLO's major supporter among the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia. But the pro-Western kingdom's monarch is expected to discuss Europe's role in the search for a Mideast peg during his current visit to West Germany.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, where members of the ruling Baath Party map out strategic links between Europe and the Arabs as a part of the future world order, reaction to the Venice declaration has been measured.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry there has described the declaration as representing "a positive development in the European stand." But he, too, pointed out that it does not constitute "a correct solution" for the Mideast crisis.

The Iraqi Baathists have traveled far from their stance of up to 20 months ago. Then, they refused the very idea of a negotiated settlement in the Mideast , calling for the eradication of "the Zionist entity" (Israel) through continued struggle.

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But now, their tightly disciplined party has come around to view that is "realistic, without leading to surrender, but still principled, without being rigid," as one Iraqi Baathist recently described the change to this reporter.

In practice, that has led the Iraqis, who have the best-organized military force in the arena, into ever-closer alliance with their former bitter foes in the Saudi ruling family. On the European issue, these two major forces on the Arab scene seem to be marching pretty much in step.

The Foreign Ministry in Syria issued a statement dismissing the EC declaration as "no different from the Camp David accords."

Key indicators being watched here are whether Jordan's King Hussein can be persuaded to endorse the Camp David process during his current United States visit. Most Arab analysts seem doubtful that this will happen.

They assign slightly more probability to the chance of current moves toward a Saudi-Egyptian rapprochement leading to a gradual thaw in President Sadat's relations with his fellow Arabs. But many powerful Saudi princes remain bitter about Mr. Sadat's whole handling of his peace campaign.

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