Reagan, Sadat: reinforcing Mideast linchpin
Egyptian President Sadat's visit here is expected to result in a strengthened US-Egyptian military and economic alliance. It seems less likely, however, that the Egyptian leader's talks with President Reagan will result in progress on the thorny Palestinian issue. Mr. Sadat is expected to ask the American leader to push for a better deal for the Palestinians.
But a senior American official said that US policy on the Middle East is still "evolving." Mr. Reagan is likely to want to consult with other Middle East leaders before making firm commitments to any new push on the Palestinian issue. Sadat's visit to Washington is only the first in a series of calls to be made on the American President by Middle East leaders. Scheduled to come later in the year are Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Jordan's King Hussein, and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Fahd.
Judging by comments from officials on both the American and Egyptian sides, the first purpose of Sadat's talks with Reagan Aug. 5-6 will be develop a close working relationship between the Egyptian and American leaders. This will be the first meeting. President Carter once indicated that there was no world leader whom he liked or trusted more than Sadat. But in some ways, Sadat's views of the world and of Soviet intentions in the Middle East might be a good deal closer to Reagan's view than to Mr. Carter's. Sadat long has been advocating a more forceful American policy in the region.
Egypt's value to the United States and to Israel is enormous. Without Egypt, the largest and most powerful of the Arab states, it would be extremely difficult for the other Arab states to wage war once again against American- supported Israel. For the past several years, Sadat has repeatedly sided with the United States in world affairs. He has offered the US access to Egyptian bases as launching pads to counter any threat to the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf.
Sadat also has made himself a popular figure in the United States. According to the Middle East Journal, a telephone poll conducted late last year showed that 67 percent of Americans has a high opinion of Sadat, holding him at that time in slightly higher esteem than Israel's Prime Minister Begin.
But for Sadat, the alliance with the US -- it is not formally an alliance but it amounts to that -- has produced mixed results.
The Camp David summit agreements resulted in increased aid to Egypt. But the expectation of many Egyptians that they would then enjoy a much higher standard of living as a "peace bonus" did not materialize. Prime Minister Begin almost immediately interpreted the Camp David agreements differently from Sadat, particularly when it came to Israeli settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan River. The Carter administration objected to Mr. Begin's interpretation but failed to do anything about it.Other arab nations rejected the agreements and broke relations with Egypt.
Sadat now is expected to ask Reagan to help restore momentum to the stalled talks with Israel on Palestinian autonomy. But some American officials think Sadat will be doing this partly for the benefit of the Arab world and mostly for domestic consumption in Egypt, where malcontents increasingly question the benefits of peace with Israel.
Egyptian officials have indicated privately that Sadat is not likely to do anything to "rock the boat" with Israel until it returns the rest of Sinai to Egypt next April.
Meanwhile, Sadat is said to be looking for more weapons and better financing terms from the United States for its military purchases here. According to the Middle East Policy Survey, which had good sources inside the Reagan administration, the administration plans to increase military assistance to Egypt next year from $900 million to about $1.3 billion (US). US-Egyptian cooperation in military training and joint operations is also expected increase.
Administration officials said that Sadat has been unhappy with the red tape involved in implementing economic assistance programs from the United States. Sadat would like a deal closer to that which Israel enjoys, whereby US aid goes directly to Israel, relatively free of restrictions.
Many Egyptian resent the large size of the US aid mission in Cairo and American attempts to tell the Egyptians what is best for Egypt. The Americans, for their part, complain about the even more cumbersome Egyptian bureaucracy and an inefficient economic system under which bas ic consumer goods are heavily subsidized.