Qaddafi in Moscow: the Kremlin soothes an unpredictable ally
Libya's enigmatic strong man, Muammar Qaddafi, seems to have gotten what he came to Moscow for: overt Soviet backing for his military thrust into neighboring Chad, and some superpower therapy for his growing regional and international isolation.
The open question at this writing -- with two days' talks ended, but no definitive communique yet issued -- was what the Kremlin got in return.
Although there was continued speculation in Western and Arab diplomatic circles that a formal Soviet-Libyan pact would be announced, no official confirmation of this came. A Libyan official privately played down the chances of a treaty.
Nor was there any immediate indication of what, if any, military agreements the Soviets may have won from Colonel Qaddafi, who has been more than happy to buy huge stocks of Soviet weaponry, but unwilling to give Moscow any bases.
Whatever the ultimate results of the Qaddafi visit, his demeanor here has served as a reminder of the limits and potential pitfalls of superpower influence in the Mideast.
Diplomats see these limits as particularly stringent for the Soviets, excluded in recent years from Arab-Israeli diplomacy, faced with a heightened US military profile in the region, and relying increasingly on two distinctly changeable Arab allies: Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Washington has its Mideast problems, too, despite ever closer ties with states like Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The Americans remain unable to deliver a palatable compromise package on the stateless Palestinians, an issue nagging even the most pro-American Arabs -- the Egyptians.
The rival superpowers' Mideast allies may have more to say than the superpowers, themselves, in the future of that explosive, resource-rich region.
Ultimately they have the option to fight wars carrying the danger of wider confrontation, something neither superpower probably wants.Lebanon is a recurring example.
The region -- to presumable howls of frustration in both Washington and Moscow -- is also stubbornly unpredictable.
Governments fall -- Iran's American-armed monarchy, for example. And alliances change.
The Soviets know better than anyone that formal treaties cannot do much to impose stability on Mideast diplomacy.
The Kremlin signed a pact, its first in the region, with Egypt in 1971. Not long afterward, Anwar Sadat booted out Soviet advisers and began to tilt toward Washington.
The Soviets signed on vocally hard-line Iraq in 1972. That treaty remains formally in force, but for the time being at least, it is little more than a piece of paper.
Colonel Qaddafi shares with the Iraqis -- they don't like each other -- a quality he likes to call "positive neutrality," not the kind of thing the Kremlin is likely to feel comfortable with even if a formal treaty were signed.
Few diplomats doubt Colonel Qaddafi will turn to the Soviets if he feels he needs them.
He is on ever-worsening terms with the Americans. US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. charged that "literally thousands of third-world embryo terrorists" were being trained by the Soviets on Libyan soil.
Since sending his troops into Chad to intervene in a civil war there late last year -- the first apparently successful episode in a recent history of Libyan military adventure --Colonel Qaddafi has also become even more than usually suspect among his neighbors. Egypt, next door to the east, promptly said it was supporting the faction the Libyans helped flatten in Chad.
Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev has heaped words of warm welcome on Colonel Qaddafi. The official Soviet news agency said late April 27 that, in the Soviet-Libyan talks, "reciprocal conviction was expressed that an end must be put to the schemes of the imperialist and reactionary forces in Chad and around it."
Colonel Qaddafi, at a ceremonial dinner, called Mr. Brezhnev a "dear friend."
He also stressed continued commitment to "our national independence . . . and positive neutrality" and added Libya's support for the "independence, assured neutrality, and sovereignty" of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, "without any outside interference in its internal affairs."
After coming to power in a bloodless 1969 coup, Qaddafi hastened to shut down a US base in Libya. But he was also quick to scold the Soviets for an alleged hankering to fill the US void. He has since drifted much closer to the Kremlin.
"But ultimately," commented an Arab diplomat here, "Qaddafi's challenge, even to the Soviets perhaps, is his unpredi ctability."