From a speech at the Middle East Institute Dec. 11 by Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.):

The Soviets are trying to play both sides. But it isn't working. They aren't making any inroads with the Arabs. In fact, their tactics are working against them with the Arabs. The Gulf Arabs see hegemony in the Gulf as an Iranian goal, and they see Moscow advancing that goal. And there is no evidence the Soviets are getting anywhere with the Iranians. Let's face it, why should anyone expect the mullocracy in Tehran to trust a bunch of professional atheists? Perhaps that is sinking in with Moscow. According to Tass, President Gromyko last Friday rebuked the Iranian ambassador, saying he and the Iranian leadership talked peace, but failed to act on their words.

For now, however, the Soviet policy in the region is a tad laughable. But . . . while the Soviets aren't likely to score in the region, they still can so foul the playing field that our efforts will fail too. We cannot ignore the Soviets. We need to bring them in as players rather than spoilers. This won't be easy to accept. After all, it was to counter the Soviets that we started reflagging . . . . But the administration policy of shunning the Soviets -- except when it comes to demanding Moscow's vote at the U.N. -- encourages them in the spoiler role and gives Tehran the opportunity to play one superpower off against the other. If we are going to contain Iran, we are going to have to do it with the Soviets -- they are simply too important, too large and too close to Iran to be excluded.

The most common argument against our joining with the Russians is that they will thereby gain influence and permanent bases in the region. But the Gulf Arab countries, which only recently achieved independence, are unlikely to be interested in compromising that independence for Moscow's benefit.