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Mideast unrest tests US policy

The military sword or the diplomatic quill? The Reagan administration's emerging Middle East policy is a combination of the two, with emphasis on the sword -- though sheathed for now -- to deter Moscow.

But an increasingly ominous situation in Lebanon, a seven-month-old Gulf war between Iran and Iraq, and escalating arms races among Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt -- these indicate that an inclination to resort to the sword is sweeping the volatile Mideast.

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Yet in Lebanon, US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has told Middle Eastern leaders, diplomacy is being stressed and a way sought to check the spreading violence. In the Gulf war, the United States is continuing its neutrality, though with a slight, nonmilitary tilt toward Iraq. And in the arms race, the US is determined to give its allies weapons to defend themselves against Soviet expansion.

But, Secretary Haig says, Israel can be assured of a "qualitative edge" in weaponry.

In other areas, such as the delicate negotiations that would be necessary to defuse the time bomb of 4 million Palestinians without a home country, the administration appears to be in synchronization with Israel. Haig told Israel oppostion Labor Party leader Shimon Peres April 6 that the US does not support the concept of a Palestinian state nor does it believe the US or Israel should negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Haig endorsed the Camp David accords but revealed no new administration stimulus to move them from the current impasse over Palestinian autonomy. He said he wanted the peace process to continue. His visits to Egypt and Israel were a way of keeping up momentum, he added. But he admitted there were "differences of opinion between Israel and the US about timing."

2 PLO leaders have vehemently denounced the US position. It is one which, they say, forces them to resort to violence. Because the PLO is recognized as the sole representative of Palestinian refugees by all Arab, Muslim, and a great many European countries, the administration's position seems to mean that common ground for a future comprehensive Middle East settlement does not exist.

The secretary of state, on a one-day visti here, warmed to his Israeli hosts. In a toast with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, he spoke of US admiration for Israel's ability to survice and prosper "against all odds" and while "lacking resources, surrounded by hostility, and seared by catastrophe."

Again and again during his meetings with Israeli officials, Haig sounded the theme of containing Soviet aggression and said Israel plays an important part in his -- one that may be even more important in the future.

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