Message hints that Assad, Andropov had secret meetings
The latest Kremlin succession has afforded a rare glimpse of the secret side of Syrian-Soviet relations, which improved under the late Yuri Andropov. Syrian President Hafez Assad's official message to Moscow on the passing of Mr. Andropov, released here over the weekend, suggested the men had held at least two secret meetings during Andropov's 15-month rule.
The apparent upshot, which is no secret, has been expanded Soviet arms supplies and a generally closer harmony of Soviet-Syrian views on various Mideast issues.
Though it was under the late Leonid Brezhnev that Moscow and Damascus signed a formal friendship pact in 1980, relations were later strained, among other things, during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This was shortly before Andropov came to power.
There had been no announcement until Andropov's passing of any meeting between him and President Assad, although there was no shortage of rumors in either country on that score.
Yet in his message to Moscow, Assad said: ''Through our close relations, meetings, and his personal history, we have known Andropov as a faithful militant struggling for peace. . . .''
Syrian sources confirmed Monday that the allusion to ''meetings'' could be taken literally, with one source saying the two men had met twice during Andropov's tenure as party chief.
In a separate note, penned by Assad in the Soviet Embassy's condolence book Saturday, he added: ''I knew President Andropov well. . . . We have lost a close friend of our country.''
Syrian officials, meanwhile, expressed confidence of continued Soviet backing under the new Kremlin leader, Konstantin Chernenko. Foreign diplomats here added that there seemed little doubt that a planned visit here by Soviet Politburo member Geidar Aliyev - called off last Friday because of the death of Andropov - would be rescheduled for the near future.
The diplomats, too, assumed that the Kremlin transition would have little effect on Moscow's Mideast policy, or on the Mideast situation in general.
However, some analysts here did note that any improvement in American-Soviet relations under the umbrella of Kremlin transition could have at least a slight impact on the Mideast in general, and on the crisis in Lebanon.
This reasoning presupposed a possibility that any easing of superpower tension might include a move by the United States to go some way toward meeting Soviet ire at being excluded from Mideast diplomcy.