Israel, Jordan, and Saudi meetings -- Reagan holds Mideast cards
Arab leaders already are looking beyond what they see as the inevitable lifting of the US arms suspension imposed on Israel this summer to a series of critical meetings between President Reagan and Middle East leaders.
The meetings involving such key Mideast participants as Saudi Arabia, Jorda, and Israel are viewed as likely to be far more revealing of long-range US intentions in the area than the resolution of the F-16 controversy with Israel.
One well-informed Arab source said that if the tenuous peace in the region holds and no other area blows up, the forthcoming meetings with the Reagan administration puts in Washington's hands "all the cards in the Arab-Israel game."
The talks which are expected to form some kind of amalgamated consensus on basic diplomatic issues involve:
* President Reagan and Israeli Prime Minister Begin in Washington Sept. 8.
Although there has been no official confirmation, Mr. Begin has indicated that Washington is about to lift its embargo on the delivery of both 14 F-16 fighter bombers and two F-15s. The ban was slapped on Israel by a Washington angry with Israeli bombings of the nuclear reactor in Iraq and Lebanese civilians in Beirut.
The anticipated lifting of the warplanes embargo has been viewed by Israeli officials and Western diplomats stationed in Israel as a necessary prelude to Begin's visit.
Arab sources think that President Reagan has quickly grasped Middle East problems this summer and believe he is modifying his earlier pro-Israeli stand. The meeting will be one for fence mending. One Western diplomat believes Reagan will press for Israeli restraint in Lebanon and urge a new push in the autonomy talks.
* President Reagan meeting in Washington with Saudi Crown Prince Fahd in October.
Saudi Arabia stands in good favor with the US, given its aid the past five months in defusing crises between Israel and various Arab parties. Prince Fahd's recent eight-point Mideast peace proposal has received support from PLO chairman Yasser Arafat who says Arabs "should handle it with caution and wisdom lest we drown in political maneuvers."
Among the Saudi proposals: Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and the elimination of Israeli settlements there, and the establishment of an indepedent Palestinian state. Syria has lent its tacit support to the Saudi plan. Only the hard-line Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine has rejected it outright.
* President Reagan meeting in Washington with Jordan's King Hussein in October or November. This is considered the most important meeting.
King Hussein is widely acknowledged as the key to advancing a Middle East settlement. He firmly rejects Jordanian takeover of the occupied territories. But that could be remedied, says a US diplomat, if Israeli military forces are pulled out of the occupied territories and if Saudi Arabia and the PLO encourage Jordan to move in ensure security.
These will be the tests of US policy, says an Arab source.
An important adjunct to these three meetings with President Reagan is the more immediate talks between President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel in Alexandria, Egypt, Aug. 25.
Just back from a summit with President Reagan, Sadat is pushing for a revival of the Camp David autonomy talks which had been under American sponsorship, for official US contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and for mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel. Sadat is attempting to capitalize on the July 24 ceasefire between Israel and, indirectly, the PLO.
Begin's Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been a frequent visitor to Cairo was in Egypt Aug. 17 for preliminary meetings. At this point Begin and Sharon refuse to negotiate with the PLO and are trying to cultivate moderate Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories to act as an autonomy-talk party.