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Egypt moves to heal rift with moderate Arabs

Egypt's President Sadat is moving to heal his rift with moderate Arab neighbors amid growing regional unrest. As part of this effort, he has secretly dispatched toplevel envoys to scout the possibility of a reconciliation. The Monitor has learned that the mission covered several Arab states, including oil-rich Saurdi Arabia

Egyptian officials, speaking privately, report mixed results from the exploratory visits. They discount changes of an early reconciliation. but some senior officials insist the reaction to MR. sadat's unpresedented move was "enough open-mindedness and understanding to encourage to us to forge ahead."

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The terms for turning a new pagbe in Egyptian- arab relations were outlined to Saudi officials by a close Sadat aide. The Edcyptiang recommending that the Arab friends and allies of the US coordinate their strategies in order to safeguard their interests -- without jeopardizing) Egypt's peace treaty with Israel which provides for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Sinai by April 1982.

Mr. Sadat's yet unpublicized moves reflect a profound change in his attitude toward his Arab counterparts. In a recent speech, he referred to them as "brothers and fellow Arabs." Previously he tended to describe them as "undemocratic and unstable." Even a Sadat attempt to arrange a limited summit meeting canot now be ruled out, according to well-informed sources here.

To pave the way for the new trend in Egypt's foreign policy, the state-controlled mass media has reduced its previous criticism of pro-Western Arab regimes. And President Sadat has leaked to the press the suggestion that he is contemplating a new "initiative" -- a term so far used solely to refer to his epoch-making trip to Jerusalem in November 1977.

"The first initiative led to misunderstanding; another initiative seems necessary to rectify [it]," comments one observer.

"Egypt was wrong in assuming that it was only a question of time before other Arabs followed Egypt'sd footsteps and made peace with Israel on the basis of the Camp david accords," explains a presidential adviser. "Arab leaders were equally wrong about their belief that Mr. Sadat's days in power were numbered because the Egyptian people did not support the peace he made with Israel."

Cairo analysts agree that recent favorable developments in the region helped set the stage for Mr. Sadat's new policy. These are:

* Iraq's failure after 11 weeks of war of with Iran to produce a decisive victory. This was aggravated by what one of Mr. Sadat's envoys described as "heightened concern" in Saudi Arabias over the possible repercussions of a prolonged war between the two nations. Such a war, for example, would help expose Iraq's inability to replace Egypt as Saudi Arabia's dependable military partner.

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* The falling-apart of the anti-Egypt Arab front into an influential pro-Western bloc headed by Saudi Arabia and including Iraq and Jordan, and a hard-line bloc led by Syria and Libya.

* Syria's merger with Libya and signing of a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union. This has moved Syria away from the gulf bloc and threatened its claim to replace Egypt as the strongest Arab state confronting Israel and fighting for Palestinian rights.

The new Egyptian approach cannot be regarded as an immediate reaction to the development of a Saudi-IRaqi-Jordanian axis. US President-elect Ronald Reagan has seemed to add to its weight by referring to Jordan's King Hussein as a prospective partner in continuing efforts to solve the Palestinian problem.

Egyptian foreign-policy makers realize their ties with Israel may prove a stumbling block to their present efforts. Yet they insist that peace with Israel is irreversible, and are determined to resist pressure from any Arab state to put an end to it in return for promises of aid or support.

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