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Gorbachev and Shultz rub allies the wrong way

Three events of note happened on the world scene this past week. Mikhail Gorbachev unveiled a new constitution for the Soviet Union. The main oil producers of the Middle East were able to agree on a common oil policy in spite of residual bitterness between Iran and Iraq from their recent war. And the US broke away from its key allies on Mideast policy.

The proposed new constitution for the Soviet Union is pointed in the direction of a democratic form of government, an elected legislature in place of an appointive, one-party rubber stamp for a ruling oligarchy.

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But it threatens to tighten Moscow's control over the constituent (captured) republics. Thus, Mr. Gorbachev ran into opposition from nationalist leaders in the Baltic states. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania - and the eastern Muslim states - have been hoping that perestroika (restructuring) could mean greater autonomy for them.

In effect, Mr. Gorbachev was offering new self-determination for Russians and Ukrainians at the price of less, or no more, for the fringe peoples - whose numbers are approaching parity with Russians and Ukrainians.

Mr. Gorbachev may have alienated support from the fringe peoples which might someday be vital to the success of his entire reform program.

In the Middle East, the conclusion of the Gulf war is bound to be a long, tedious, and difficult process. It has reached the point where Iran and Iraq have exchanged a few wounded and ill prisoners of war, but fewer than planned and with much bickering about the process. Mistrust and hostility is still too strong on both sides to permit lasting peace.

But the slow peace process did reach the point this week where Iran could be persuaded to accept an oil pumping quota at parity with Iraq. Without it there could not have been a new agreement among the OPEC oil producers to limit production in order to stabilize and raise world oil prices.

In other words, Iran's need for oil revenue for postwar reconstruction overcame its resentment against Iraq. Peace is settling things down in the Gulf.

But the new push for peace between Israel and Arabs was stalled this week when the US denied a visa for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to come to the US to address the United Nations.

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To grasp the weight of this event, take a step back and know that those who wish for a final end to the 40 years of war between Israel and its Arab neighbors have worked out a plan based on the assumption that American President-elect George Bush wishes to open his foreign policy agenda with a new drive for such a peace.

Step one down that road must be the resumption of direct communication between the US government and Mr. Arafat of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). There has been no direct communication between the two since Henry Kissinger, back in the Nixon-Ford era, promised the US would never talk to the PLO until it recognizes Israel's right to exist.

Hence, those who have been working on the new peace initiative have been trying for months to persuade Mr. Arafat to take up a position which would enable the US to escape from that old Kissinger shackle. They got it. Mr. Arafat agreed to talk and negotiate under UN Resolution 242, which calls for recognition of Israel and Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

That was supposed to open the way for a general conference between Israel and the Arabs. But into the mechanism of the whole peace operation which has been turning so slowly, the US throws a monkey wrench, first by saying Arafat's concession was insufficient and then by refusing to let him come to the UN.

That action now constitutes the second time in the history of the Reagan administration that Washington's most important allies - the countries of Western Europe - have broken away on a major policy issue.

The first such break was over the pipeline to carry natural gas from Siberia to Western Europe. The US tried to block it as part of a general Western economic boycott of the Soviet Union. Europe refused to join the boycott and refused to stop the pipeline.

This week, Britain, France, Italy, and the other Western European allies criticized the denial of the visa and seemed supportive of a move to transfer the next meeting of the General Assembly to Geneva - where Mr. Arafat will obtain a more sympathetic audience, and more publicity, than had his speech happened in New York in a routine way.

Translate this into political reality. What has actually happened is that US Secretary of State George Shultz, encouraged by the Israeli lobby, has blocked a peace initiative favored unanimously by the European allies. Mr. Arafat had agreed to go ahead with the peace initiative which, in the end, would require him to give up the Arab hope of someday regaining all of Palestine.

The question now is whether the European allies can unblock the peace initiative. They are trying.

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