a normally reticent Saudi Arabia is now engaged in one of the most ambitious diplomatic efforts it has undertaken in years. For the moment at least, the Saudis are playing the lead diplomatic role in attempting to resolve the Lebanon crisis. Saudi envoys have been shuttling in and out of Beirut, Damascus, and Washington.
The head of Saudi intelligence, Prime Turki al-Faisal, is currently in Washington on an unpublicized mission, during which he is to meet with high-ranking American officials. On an earlier mission, he met with President Reagan.
US officials are reluctant to comment on the Saudi peace effort, partly because of the usual Saudi sensitivities but also partly because any open American backing for the effort could damage or destroy it.
Clovis maksoud, the Arab League's envoy to the United States and to the United Nations, described Saudi Arabia's peacemaking initiative as an attempt to implement the 21-nation Arab League resolution on the Lebanon crisis.
The Israeli attitude toward the current Saudi diplomatic effort was unclear. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin has harch words for an earlier phase of the Saudi peacemaking effort, but then he seemed to soften his tone.
The harsh comments came on May 18, when Mr. Begin said that Saudi Arabia was "not capable of playing any useful role whatsoever." Calling its government corrupt, Begin said Saudi Arabia was "a family, not a country." This was followed by an approach from the State Department, whose spokesman, Dean Fischer , on May 19 called on all sides to restrain their rhetoric.
according to an American close to Saudi thinking on the subject, the Saudi peacemaking effort is long-range and comprehensive. It has already entailed a renewal of payments to Syria, reported to come to more than $50 million, for maintenance of the so-called Arab deterrent force in Lebanon. Other Arab forces might be brought back into the force once again to give it a truly Arab nature. But also as part of the deal, Syrian missiles would have to be withdrawn. In order to save face for the Syrians, this would not take place right away. Israel would have toreduce its overflights. Meanwhile, the Saudis would help provide the Arab "umbrella" for a Syrian pullback of the missiles to points just across the border inside Syria.