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How Syria, Jordan moves could broaden stubborn Iran-Iraq conflict

The Iraq-Iran upheaval is sending shock waves through fragile neighbor regimes, reigniting old Mideast feuds, and potentially inviting renewed tension between Washington and Moscow.

The friendship and cooperation pact signed Oct. 8 by the Soviet Union and Syria, the only such accord between Moscow and one of Israel's frontline Arab foes, was seen as one aspect of the widening diplomatic fallout from the Gulf conflict.

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The good news was that the fighting itself had not yet spread beyond the two combatants -- despite Iran's threats to punish Jordanian King Hussein for siding actively with Iraq.

The bad news, as diplomats saw it, was that the danger had not disappeared just because neither Iran nor Iraq had yet become desperate enough to go regional with their conflict.

On the contrary, most analysts argued the only way of erasing that peril would be to end the war.

But by late Oct. 8 -- amid now-customary confussion over precisely who was doing what to whom, and where, on the battlefront--the conflict seemed to be getting ever more difficult to defuse through diplomacy.

* Two key Arab regimes had broken what amounted to a tacit taboo on actively taking sides in the 17-day-old war.

Jordan lined up squarely with Iraq, shipping at least nonmilitary reinforcements overland to the Iraqis. Diplomats said it remained unclear to what extent, if any, Jordan's King Hussein also was transshipping military materiel to Baghdad.

Syria, sandwiched between Iraq and Jordan, meanwhile shelved its uncommon, wartime restraint and revived rhetorical attacks on neighboring Iraq. An editorial in the government-controlled Damascus newspaper Al Baath Oct. 7 sounded the clearest signal yet that Syria's real sympathies lay with Iran. Iraq's press replied in kind.

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* Israel, for its part, weighed in with a warning over Jordanian support for Iraq, a potential Arab nuclear power the Israelis see as the greater of tw evils in the Gulf conflict. Prime Minister Menachem Begin was quoted in a CBS broadcast as suggesting Jordan's King Hussein might end up burning his fingers.

* The superpowers, if publicity committed to peacemaking, also seemed to be drawn increasingly into the the Mideast turmoil.

Syrian President HAfez Assad arrived in Moscow Oct. 8 and promptly buried his longtime suspicion of superpower blocs by signing a formal treaty with the Kremlin. Senior Arab diplomats, informed beforehand of the coming treaty, told the Monitor that it was not immediately clear what precise provisions the pact would include.

Washington, meanwhile, expanded its offer of airbone radar protection -- the Americans sent four radar aircraft to Saudi Arabia shortly after the war began -- to include other moderate Gulf states, should they stay on the sidelines in the Iraqi-Iranian dispute.

But one fear diplomats was that these states, however traditionally conservative, might find it hard to resist the pressure to side actively with Iraq following the Jordanian lead.

Most analysts traced both the Syrian and Jordanian moves largely to the internal and external weaknesses of the two regimes.

Jordan, caught between a hostile Israel and an increasingly unfriendly Syria, had been counting on IRaq as a powerful ally. Now that Iraq was at war, Jordan King Hussein was seen as all but forced to give practical effect to his public endorsements of the Iraqis.

Syria has long felt threatened by Israel, Jordan, and Iraq. The Iraq-Iran war, and King Hussein's latest reaction to it, were seen as reinforcing this feeling in Damascus at a time of mounting internal unrest among anti-Assad forces.

President Assad, Mideast experts suggested, was reluctantly turning to Moscow for what he must see as needed insurance.

Whatever the reasons for Jordanian and Syrian moves, King Hussein at least declared his position with a rhetorical flourish other Arab leaders may find hard to resist, some diplomats argued.

"Argued unity," was the king's televised refrain. The clear implicatin: This is a dispute, fundamentally, between Arab and Persian. There is little choice for any Arab but to side with the Arabs.

Yet the greatest immediate threat of a widened Mideast conflict was still seen as coming from Iraq and IRan themselves.

On-scene reporters are flashing back sometimes confused reports of what is actually going on at the front. On Oct. 8, one US news service seemed actually to have lost track of where the main fighting was.

But these news sources, and direct contact with the rival capitals, generally suggested Iraq was pressing its artillery offensive Oct. 8 against key towns inside the Iranian frontier, seeking ultimately to force a defiant Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to his knees.

From Tehran, there was little sign the Ayatollah was obliging. despite tightened rationing of essential fuel supplies in the Iranian capital, diplomats there said there was also no firm indication the country's military machine was yet running on empty.

Short of outright surrender or physical collapse by one of the rival sides, most diplomats still saw no early end to the war.

And on the diplomatic front, the conflict seemed to be widening, making the job of peacemaking all the more daunting.

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