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Conservative Arabs battle summit rift

Conservative Gulf states have seen the anti-Sadat coalition of which they are key members seriously split by the Syrian-led boycott of the Arab summit in Amman, Jordan, Nov. 25 to 27.

But already, these states have moved to limit, and if possible heal, the resultant rift.

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That rift already has led to a troop buildup along both sides of the Syrian-Jordanian border, with the accompanying threat of border skirmishes.

The buildup comes at a time when the Arab's political kaleidoscope, under the impact of the Gulf war, was falling into new, more deeply polarized patterns.

The Syrians, critical of neighboring Iraq in the war and supportive of the Iranian war effort, rushed through a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in October.

The conservative, adn generally cautious, Saudis shortly afterward took the extreme (for them) step of cutting relations with Libya, after the latter openly criticized the Saudi decision to deploy American-built radar surveillance planes (AWACS) in Saudi skies.

Prior to the Amman summit date, the rulers of Saudi arabia and most of its neighbors in the Arabian Peninsula were still hoping that a common opposition to the whole Camp David process could nevertheless make a meaningful summit meeting possible.

As it was, Syria was able to persuade its four allies in the hard-line "steadfastness front," as well as its protege, Lebanon, to join the boycott of the conference. This was despite clear indications from at least some of the front's members that they would have favored attendance.

The resolutions passed by the summit, which had been hammered out in prior ministerial sessions attended by the eventual boycotters, would not in the themselves seem to have justified a boycott.

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Those resolutions stepped up the participants' opposition to the Camp David process, deemed United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 to be "not a valid basis for a Mideast settlement," and stressed that the PLO alone could decide the future of the Palestinian people.

All these resolutions should have appeaked to the "steadfaster." (According to Arab sources here, Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, a founder of the front, himself applauded the summit resolutions.)

The Syrians might have been unwilling to appear at any summit where Iraq's President Saddam Hussein might emerge as an Arab hero. But another reason for their insistence on a boycott might be provided by their closer-than-ever alliance with the Soviet Union, whose First Deputy Chairman of the Presidium Vasily Kuznetsov was scheduled to visit the Syrian capital Dec. 1.

One Arab analyst here has suggested the Soviets might have been behind Syria insistence, as a message to the incoming US president that Soviet allies can line up at least a six-member Arab bloc when pushed.

Despite signs of growing Soviet influence in Syria as a result of the friendship treaty, the Saudi ruling family is carefully keeping its lines with the Baathists in Damascus open.

Saudi finnacia aid to Syria has continued regardless of the treaty, and in response to the latest tension between Syria and Jordan, Saudi Second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Abdullah visited Damascus "to defuse the border situation."

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