Egypt, Soviet Union Dig in Against Opposition of Arab States to U.S. Peace Plan

Egypt and the Soviet Union appeared determined today not to allow new diplomatic efforts for a negotiated Middle East settlement to founder on the intransigence of some Arab states. The Iraqi government’s hard line opposition to Egypt’s and Jordan’s acceptance of the latest United States peace initiative was sharply criticized by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in a message to President Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr, of Iraq. Iraq has also been criticized in the Soviet press. The message was given by President Nasser to the Iraqi Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Gen. Anwar Al-Hadithi, who visited Cairo two days ago. It heaped scorn on the Iraqi regime for indulging in street demonstrations while Egypt bore the brunt of armed struggle with Israel. The text of the message was published yesterday by Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency. In it the Egyptian leader told his Iraqi counterpart that the energy used in sloganeering in the streets of Baghdad and in denouncing Egypt’s diplomatic moves could be better directed toward “ordering Iraqi planes to attack Israeli targets or strengthening Iraqi forces on the eastern front against Israel.” President Nasser added:

“The Egyptian people have not indulged in the luxury of fighting from speakers’ platforms.” The sharpness of the message and its implication that Iraq lacked the will to fight represented an attempt by Egypt to shift the onus of “softness” to regimes that have criticized its acceptance of a temporary cease-fire with Israel and negotiations under the aegis of United Nations envoy Gunnar V. Jarring. The most strident criticism has come from Baghdad and Damascus, though in the opinion of many observers the Syrian regime privately is not as opposed to a negotiated settlement as its hard line would indicate. But both Syria and Iraq are boycotting an Arab unity meeting scheduled to begin today in Tripoli. Libya, and Algeria too has announced it will not participate. Cairo’s move in accepting the formula proposed by Secretary of State William P. Rogers and its vehement counter-attack against criticism within the Arab world indicated to observers here that President Nasser enjoys the strongest backing from the Soviet Union. Moscow is said to have favored a diplomatic settlement in the Middle East all along despite its bitter attacks on Israel which continue and its impressive re-armament of Egypt. In fact, diplomatic sources here say. Moscow is prepared to take full credit for bringing about the U.S. peace initiative.

According to the Russians, it was their establishment of an effective Egyptian air defense system through the introduction of SAM-2 and SAM-3 missiles and the stationing of Soviet technicians, protected by Russian pilots and combat troops in Egypt, which convinced the United States and Israel that the time for negotiations had arrived. Moscow is already claiming that the Israelis have abandoned hope of dictating terms to Egypt because of the latter’s new military strength. In the coming weeks and months, diplomats say. the Russians are expected to exert pressure on the U.S. to get Israel to agree to withdraw from all of the Arab territories it occupied in the June, 1967 war. The Russians will argue that they did their part by “delivering” the Arabs to the negotiating process and anything short of total Israeli withdrawal is unacceptable. Should the peace efforts fail. Moscow can put the entire blame on the U.S. and Israel. Should a settlement acceptable to the Arabs emerge, Russian prestige and influence in the Arab world would be greater than ever, diplomats say. It is believed however that the Kremlin is anxious for a settlement that would eliminate the need to continue providing Egypt with costly weaponry and other aid and would re-open the Suez Canal making it possible for the Soviet Navy to operate freely in the Indian Ocean.

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