Behind the Headlines Flipping the Peace Coin

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat may have let the cat out of the diplomatic pouch and, thereby, placed into public domain the policy of “quiet diplomacy” pursued by the United States and, to some degree, by the Soviet Union.

The voluble Egyptian leader warned this week that the Mideast is a bomb ready to explode and that this bomb must be defused by continuing the momentum of the progress of peace either through step-by-step negotiations as proposed by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, or, if that doesn’t work, by the resumption of the Geneva peace talks as favored by the Soviet Union.

With this either/or strategy Egypt was very likely floating a trial balloon on behalf of both the U.S. and USSR for a joint superpower effect to settle the Mideast conflict and get the Israeli-Arab impasse off dead center.

CAN’T GO IT ALONE

There have been strong indications in recent weeks by the U.S. and the USSR that neither power, can continue to go it alone in the Mideast and that neither country is in a position to continue for much longer as patrons of client states.

At the same time, neither the U.S. nor the USSR can afford, at this time, to write off their respective clients nor to permit a situation to develop whereby one or the other is totally frozen out of the Mideast scene. But neither superpower can say so, or does not want to say so, publicly. Nevertheless, the economic, political and diplomatic strains of dealing with their respective clients are becoming too much for both superpowers

There are signals from the upper echelon of the Ford Administration, the State Department and the Pentagon that America cannot continue indefinitely to be Israel’s sole patron. The basic reason for this is America’s faltering economy.

Similarly, the USSR is trying to cope with sluggish productivity in its agricultural sector and moderates in the Soviet government feel that further investments in military hardware for the Arabs is having a negative effect in production of consumer and industrial goods at home.

Both the U.S. and USSR are beginning to cringe under the continuing pressure of their respective clients’ demands for ongoing supply of arms and spare parts. Efforts to limit the production of strategic arms is also putting a dent into what the Soviet Union and the United States can supply their Mideast clients in the way of sophisticated weapons.

THE ARMS SUPPLIES MERRY-GO-ROUND

The merry-go-round of supplying arms to the Arabs and Israelis continues because neither superpower wants to offend its respective clients at a time when both are seeking to establish firm footholds in the Mideast and neither are in a position to limit or halt each other’s supply of arms

At the same time, neither the Arabs nor Israelis relish the prospects of eventually being reduced to “vassal states” by their respective patrons by sheer necessity of depending on them to supply the arms or assure peace. Such a development would destroy the viability of all the Mideast nations as sovereign and independent states.

At the moment, however, progress in negotiations depends in large measure on what the U.S. and the USSR can do either together or separately to cool tempers on both sides. Of all the Arab states, Egypt is most anxious to achieve a settlement, if only to retrieve some land from Israel, including the Abu Rodeis oil field and to embark on some kind of internal economic stabilization.

Egypt would, therefore, welcome a joint undertaking by the two superpowers in helping to get the next stage of negotiations going. In this respect, Egypt may be the catalytic agent in bringing the two superpowers together, or at least provide them with the necessary public rationalization for an agreement to be co-equals in the next stage of peace talks.

BALLOON OR BAUBLE?

The coin of step-by-step negotiations and Geneva talks has been flipped diplomatically in recent weeks during talks between President Ford and Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid I. Brezhnev, French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Brezhnev, and President Ford and Giscard d’Estaing.

Even Israelis are beginning to talk more openly about unfreezing the Soviet Union’s role in future Mideast talks, now frozen by Kissinger’s approach. On Dec. 3. Israeli Foreign Minister Yigal Allon reiterated that Israel was prepared to resume diplomatic relations with the USSR and noted that Soviet officials are aware of this.

Last week in Washington, Allon said it “would be helpful” if there was a U.S.-Soviet guaranteed peace settlement, but added, “not in place of a signed agreement.”

What was significant about Sadat’s statement, given in an interview with Iranian publisher, Farhad Massoudi, was that the step-by-step approach was given priority with Geneva talks to follow if the first approach failed. Also of significance was its timing: Brezhnev is due in Cairo” early next month and Allon is due to return to Washington at the same time.

The next few weeks will tell whether Sadat is desperately trying to keep all options open in his relations with the U.S. and USSR to avoid political repercussions from more radical elements in his government or a signal to all parties involved in the Mideast that time for peaceful solutions has run out.

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