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Japan's Mideast plan, post-Sadat

Japan is busy picking up the pieces of its planned independent Middle East peace initiative, which was shattered by the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

The Japanese initiative had been scheduled to be launched first with the recent visit to Tokyo by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chief Yasser Arafat, and then with a ''balancing'' state visit in November by Mr. Sadat himself to sign an important economic aid agreement.

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The Japanese intention was to show concern for the plight of the Palestinian people - followed with a hoped-for ''diplomatic coup'' in getting the PLO to recognize Israel's right to existence.

This plan was so upset by the news of Mr. Sadat's death that there was talk of canceling the Arafat visit.

The government went ahead by hastily putting out a statement reaffirming that the PLO leader's stay in Tokyo was ''unofficial,'' even though he was able to keep his planned appointments with top government leaders.

Japan thus become the first major noncommunist industrial country ever to have direct talks with the PLO leader - a source of considerable excitement for some Foreign Ministry officials - and of reported embarassment for the US.

The government insisted its policy of supporting a Palestinian state while also urging PLO recognition of Israel is unchanged. But some observers said Arafat had gained the most out of the visit as it had been a major breakthrough in the PLO's image-changing ''peace offensive'' toward Western nations.

One consequence of the Sadat assassination, however, has been to convince Prime Minister Suzuki that he should make an extensive tour of the Middle East as early as possible, probably early next year.

Some officials suggest that Japan could become an important bridge in the Middle East between the PLO and the United States and Israel, which refuses to deal with the Palestinian ''terrorist'' organization.

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But many officials think Japan's best role would be in promoting stability in the region through a major aid program to stimulate economic progress rather than involvement in the sensitive, complex diplomatic negotiations.

A major economic aid package was also being prepared for the Sadat visit. Some sectors of government have been urging that the package should be delayed until the political and security situation in Egypt becomes clearer. But the prevailing view seems to be that recent events make the assistance even more imperative than before.

In fact, talks on the final shape of an agricultural aid package were scheduled to begin Oct. 19 in Tokyo between Japanese and Egyptian government officials.

During his visit Arafat repeated statements saying he was willing to consider a peace plan by Saudi Arabia which recognizes the rights of all Middle East nations, including Israel, to live in peace. Asked at a press conference whether the PLO was willing to recognize Israel, he replied he would give his answer at the Arab summit in Rabat, Morocco, next month.

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