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Moscow's Arab friends admit it can't find toehold in Mideast

Fresh evidence of Soviet problems in seeking to reenter Arab-Israeli diplomacy is coming from what may seem an unlikely source: The vocally "anti-American" leaders of Syria, Iraq, and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

But if this is the bad news for the Kremlin, which has been proposing a widened peace conference with Soviet participation, here is the good news:

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The Reagan administration is nowhere near its goal of curbing overall Soviet influence in the strategically important Mideast. Indeed, many diplomats here dismiss this as an impossible White House dream for the foreseeable future.

Evidence for this, too, has come from what may seem unlikely quarters: relative Arab moderates like the Kuwaitis and the (traditionally pro-Western) Jordanians.

The consensus among diplomats here is that to seriously challenge Soviet influence in the Mideast, the US would have to come up with a compromise formula for overall peace capable of tempting key Arab parties, including the Palestinians. A small army of world diplomats has failed to do this in 33 years of sporadic Arab-Israeli violence.

Some diplomats feel the task could be further complicated should the still-ambiguous results of Israel's June 30 national election put conservative Prime Minister Menachem Begin back in power for another four years.

And should the lack of overall peace mean a further Arab-Israeli war, the Reagan administration would almost certainly line up with the Israelis, alienating the very Arab centrists (Saudi Arabia, for one) it has been trying to woo into the semblance of an anti- Soviet coalition.

Trying to get any detailed picture from a Mideast crystal ball is just about as futile as predicting the exact size of the Soviet grain harvest.

But after several months of open sparring between the Reagan administration and the Kremlin for Mideast influence, two past rules of thumb seem to have been reinforced.

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The first is that the US is the dominant superpower when it comes to Mideast negotiation, principally because huge US support for the Israelis is seen by many Arabs as giving Washington theoretical leverage in winning concessions from Israel.

The second rule is that even the seemingly most pro-Western of Arab leaders mistrust the US-Israeli alliance -- and this, particularly during the region's maddeningly periodic war scares, causes many in the Arab world to look toward Mosdow. They do so sometimes for arms, sometimes in hopes of unsettling Washington to the point where it may try to curb what they see as "blind" support for the Israelis.

A further element in Arab politics has been emerging, and the Soviets have used it to some advantage. More of the relative moderates in the Arab world seem to reject Mr. Reagan's high-profile feud with the Soviets.

But when it comes to negotiating, the Soviets are seriously held back by their virtual lack of influence with Israel.

New evidence of US diplomatic dominance has come even from Syria, a Soviet arms client linked to Moscow by a recent friendship treaty. During the ongoing war scare between Syria and Israel, outwardly hard-line Syrian President Assad repeatedly received Mr. Reagan's special crisis envoy in Damascus.

Iraq, too, felt it worthwhile to seal a compromise UN Security Council resolution winning hedged US condemnation of the Israeli raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor -- even at the expense of bowing to US demands that no sanctions against Israel be included.

The PLO, meanwhile, has made noises about supporting the Soviet call for a widened, international Mideast peace conference -- a proposal that included provisions, clearly in part to sway the US, for the guaranteed sovereignty and security of Israel.

Visiting PLO "foreign minister" Farouk Khaddoumi told this reporter June 30 that the mainstream Palesti nian group did not support these particular provisions.

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