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SPECIAL REPORT: WITNESS TO WAR : Memoirs From the Battle Front, the Diplomatic Front and the Home Front : The Middle East: Breeding Ground For Instability

March 12, 1991

The Middle East has long been a region of shifting allegiances and borders. Here are just three versions arrangements that have come and gone during this century. Saddam Hussein tried to personally change the map once more by annexing Kuwait. He failed, but in the aftermath the world once more sees the different--and sometimes conflicting--interests of those countries with a stake in the region. As Secretary of State James A. Baker III tours the area this week, here is a look at some of those varying agendas:

THE UNITED STATES wants political stability, friendship with both Israel and the Arabs and a reliable supply of oil at a price that is not so high as to suppress economic growth yet not so low as to price U.S. producers out of the market. Baker's talks are to focus on regional security agreements, a ban on chemical and nuclear weapons, the future of the Palestinians and economic aid.

THE SOVIET UNION wants back some of its old prestige as a superpower, as well as political stability in an area that is only 250 miles from its own Muslim republics.

SAUDI ARABIA and KUWAIT want a new security structure to protect their rich but under-defended countries against hungrier and more powerful neighbors like Iraq and Iran. In the short run, that means they want Saddam Hussein out of power; in the long run, it means they want to be able to count on the United States coming to their aid if the events of 1990 are ever repeated.

IRAN isn't on Baker's itinerary, but as the largest military power on the Persian Gulf it will have to be included in the deliberations sooner or later. The Tehran regime wants to reduce Iraq's armed forces so they can no longer threaten Iran.

ISRAEL wants to see a diminished Arab threat so it could devote a greater share of its resources to such national goals as absorbing new Soviet Jewish immigrants and less to security. But, as always since the Jewish state's founding in 1948, there is little sign that the sides can agree on such contentious but pivotal issues as the future of the Palestinians or other issues.

SYRIA wants a role as a major political player in the Arab world as well as massive economic aid from the wealthy Gulf states. President Hafez Assad has given signals that he is ready to make peace with Israel, but only if he can obtain a favorable settlement for the Palestinians.

IRAQ isn't negotiating anything but cease-fire lines at the moment. Saddam Hussein wants the United Nations to lift its economic and arms embargoes, but the United States will block any relaxation. If Hussein falls, the new Baghdad government will need to reach political, military and economic understandings with its neighbors.

JORDAN wants forgiveness--and resumed aid--from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United States, mainly because King Hussein wants to keep his present job.

EGYPT wants exactly the same things Syria does, only more of them. President Hosni Mubarak has already won recognition as one of the Arab world's premier leaders, and the forgiveness of American loans. But his country, which contains the largest population of any Arab country, needs more economic growth.

THE PALESTINIANS want an independent state, but beyond that they don't agree among themselves on any of the details or how to get there. Most Palestinians still insist that Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization are their legitimate representatives, despite Arafat's politically disastrous decision to back Iraq.

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