Kremlin woos West's friend, Jordan, in new attempt to win a Mideast role
The Soviet Union, anxious for a renewed role in Arab-Israeli diplomacy, is scheduling summit talks here with the traditionally pro-Western King of Jordan, diplomats report.
Jordan's King Hussein, who is to meet US Secretary of State Alexander Haig early in April, has conveyed acceptance in principle of a Soviet invitation for such a summit, senior diplomats here say.
The Moscow talks -- not yet officially announced by either side -- are said to be tentatively planned for several weeks after Mr. Haig's April 3-8 visit to Jordan and other Mideast states.
The Jordanian monarch is widely viewed as the moderate Arab linchpin in any eventual overall peace settlement.
The reported Soviet diplomatic move comes amid suggestions from US officials that a central feature of Reagan administration Mideast policy will be to counter Soviet influence in that strategically important oil region.
Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev Feb. 23 made a bid for expanded influence in one area where Moscow's input has long been on the wane -- Arab-Israeli diplomacy. In his keynote speech to the 26th congress of the Soviet Communist Party, Mr. Brezhnev proposed an international Mideast peace conference, saying: "We are prepared for such a search jointly with the United states."
Efforts to defuse perennial Arab-Israeli conflict have been dominated in recent years by the Americans, who mediated the 1979 peace treaty between Israeli and its most populous and powerful Arab foe, Egypt.
But, as Mr. Brezhnev pointedly noted, US-sponsored talks between Egypt and Israel aimed at expanding the peace accord to include the Palestinians have moved virtually nowhere. they have been rejected by even moderate Arabs -- like the Jordanians -- as a cover for continued Israeli control over formerly Arab land captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
The largest chunk of occupied territory now at stake is the West Bank of the Jordan River, which had been ruled by King Hussein. Washington sees the King as a key in any eventual compromise. So, reluctantly, do prominent moderates within the Palestine Liberation Organization which fought a civil war against Hussein in 1970 and was ultimately forced to pack up its guns and leave for Lebanon.
And so do Prime Minister Menachem Begin's relatively moderate Israeli Labor Party rivals, who are widely expected to unseat him in elections this summer.
The Kremlin, whose main current allies in the kaleidoscopic Arab world are the PLO and an increasingly isolated Syria, also seems convincedd of Jordan's key importance in any peace.
This makes things a little tricky for Moscow, since the Syrians have intermittently been feinting at a shooting war with neighboring Jordan. The official Soviet news media have played down that rivalry and, indeed, any negative statement about the Jordanians.
Jordan sees the Americans as crucial to any overall Mideast peace, in that Washington provides billions of dollars in aid to Israel and theoretically can pressure the Israelis toward negotiating concessions. King Hussein, educated partly in Britain, has been outspokenly pro-Western during much of his more than a quarter century in power.
But in interviews with this and other reporters, he has made it clear he felt betrayed by Washington's part in Egypt's "separate treaty" with Israel, and dismayed by the Americans's failure to come up with a formula ensuring full self-determination for the Palestinians.
Although it seems virtually impossible he would tilt radically toward the Soviets, the King has been calling for renewed internationalization of the Mideast peace process, with Moscow as one partner.
The King had been scheduled to visit Moscow late last year. But the Soviets announced Oct. 10 that the visit had been put off. This was two days after the Soviet signed a formal friendship treaty with the Syrians.
Now, Moscow seems to be wooing Jordan with renewed determination.
On the eve of the party congress, diplomats here say, the Soviets renewed the invitation to King Hussein. At the same time, Mr. Brezhnev's Mideast proposals were seen as aimed largely at the Jordanians, who have been quoted on the Soviet news agency Tass as publicly welcoming them.
hey were also clearly intended for at least one other important audience -- the Reagan administration.
Mr. Brezhnev forcefully reminded his listeners that Moscow, unlike its harder-line Arab allies, formally recognizes the need to guarantee the "security and sovereignty" of Israel. He seemed to hint that he might be able to help nudge parties like Syria and the PLO toward compromise.