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Arabs struggle to patch up their disputes - so far, unsuccessfully

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Intense diplomatic activity in several Arab capitals may be headed toward a major summit to tackle a growing list of problems facing the 21-nation bloc. Saudi Arabia appears to be spearheading the diplomatic drive to close the wide gap between militants and moderates. It set the standard by the somewhat astonishing red carpet reception of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi over the weekend.

The meeting between the leading Arab monarch and one of the world's leading revolutionaries was in part designed to set a precedent and help thaw the frigid propaganda various Arab states have been throwing at each other.

Colonel Qaddafi then went to Amman, Jordan, for talks with another traditional rival, King Hussein, during his unannounced four-nation tour, which diplomats claim was originally suggested by the Saudis.

The impetus for the frenzy of activity is fear that any of the four major issues now dividing the Arab world could soon become a flash point for deeper instability. There has been a recognized pattern of major upheavals within Arab governments following every conflict with Israel.

The four major areas of dispute are: withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, the Iran-Iraq war, the PLO mutiny, and broader Middle East peace.

Saudi King Fahd is promoting the various bilateral contacts to determine if there is enough common ground among rivals to convene a summit that would lead to constructive resolutions on united action, envoys say.

But after two weeks of escalating momentum, there are few concrete signs of a breakthrough. Indeed, the initial reaction among diplomats is that the various meetings - involving the Saudis, Libyans, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis, Algerians , Kuwaitis, and the PLO - have served only to accentuate differences rather than heal splits.

Syria responded to the rumblings of reconciliation with yet another rejection of the Lebanese-Israeli accord on withdrawal of foreign forces which it said was ''final and nonnegotiable.''

Libya has refused to back down from its support of PLO mutineers. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Colonel Qaddafi were both in North Yemen on Friday, but intermediaries were unable to arrange a face-to-face meeting. The two rivals agreed only to end verbal attacks on each other.


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