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Narrowing the Gap

November 13, 1987

Even the moderates who were there expressed surprise at the moderation of this week's Arab summit conference in Amman. Meeting for the most part behind closed doors, the 21 members of the Arab League were able to reach an unusual measure of agreement on the main business before them. Some who played key roles in the conference are hailing its results as evidence of a new realism, a new maturity in Arab affairs. Certainly the political center of gravity in the Arab world does indeed seem to have shifted toward the pragmatic middle. This is a welcome change; whether it represents a fundamental and enduring one remains to be seen.

The conferees were brought together by their growing sense of alarm over events in the Persian Gulf, and by a deepening concern that Iran's commitment to spreading its Islamic revolution represents a clear and present danger to the stability and survival of many Arab states. From this concern came the two main actions taken by the conference.

First, diplomatic relations with Egypt have once again been made respectable, eight years after the Arab League first sought to punish Cairo for making peace with Israel. Egypt has the largest population and the largest standing army in the Arab world. Anxious over the threat emanating from Tehran, and perhaps with evolving views about Israel as well, the majority of Egypt's fellow Arab states now want it back in the fold. In the next few weeks at least half a dozen Arab states are expected to resume ties with Cairo.

Second, the Arab League has for the first time as a body condemned Iran for its attacks on Kuwait and its refusal to accept a cease-fire in its war with Iraq. Even formerly sympathetic states, among them Algeria and Syria, joined in this condemnation, with Syria's change of mind reportedly being helped along by a promised $2-billion gift from Saudi Arabia. Iran had few friends in the world prior to the Arab summit meeting. If the signatories of the Amman communique mean what they say, it has even fewer now.

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