Whatever the outcome of President Carter's mission to the Middle East, the Kremlin position on peace between Egypt and Israel remains steadfastly negative.
The mission comes at a time when American influence in the region has been undercut by the Iranian revolution, strains with staunchly pro-Western Saudi Arabia and unexpected warfare between pro-Western North Yemen and the Marxist government of South Yemen.
The Soviets in official press commentaries this week have seized on these developments attacking Carter's trip in part as an effort to bolster American strategic interests in the Middle East following the fall of the shah of Iran. The leadership at the same time is cautiously trying to draw closer to the Saudis, and apparently making headway to the consternation of Western diplomatic observers in Moscow. As part of this effort, Soviet press comment on the Yemeni conflict with its serious implications for Saudi security, have been cautious and neutral in tone.
The longstanding Soviet characterization of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt still stands in all its bitterness: He is portrayed as a Washington lackey eager to sell out the cause of Palestinian nationhood and recovery of Israeli-occupied Arab lands in return for military, financial and technical aid for Egypt's ailing economy and obsolete armed forces. The media here ridicules the notion of converting Egypt into a surrogate Middle East "policeman" as successor to the ousted shah's pretensions.
The government newspaper Izvestia eariler this week asserted in a long analysis that the Iranian revolution was the natural outcome of Excessive Western influence and corruption. It hinted that the Soviet leadership believes the long-term result makes things much tougher for Washington in dealing with Arab countries.
The press has sharply denounced the recent visit by Carter's secretary of defense, Harold Brown, to Saudi Arabia, calling it a U.S. attempt to force Riyadh into closer cooperation with Washington on defense matters.
"The Saudis did not swallow the bait," Izvestia declared in approving tones.
In recent years, Moscow has used official Soviet Moslem religious leaders to pursue improved relations with the Saudis. The Soviet Moslem leadership has heaped praise on the Saudi ruling family for supporting Islam around the world and lamente the lack of diplomatic relations that makes it impossible for the handful of Moslem pilgrims allowed to journey to Mecca each year from the U.S.S.R. to fly there directly.
Visible Soviet overtures to the Saudis, in the form of an unusually positive account of the country in the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta, as well as the Izvestia article last week, may also have been accompanied by covert moves as well. In any event, a recent interview by the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud, reported without comment in Izvestia, indicates that the Kremlin has timed its moves well to exploit strains within the Saudi ruling family and hardening opposition in Riyadh to Sadat's attempts at peace with Israel.
Saud saluted what he called the Soviet Union's positive position on Arab issues and said it was time to recognize the importance of Moscow's policies in the region. This was interpreted as a sign the Saudis might be thinking about responding to the Soviet overtures.
The Soviet position is that only a general Middle East Peace conference can settle the tensions there and assure long-term peace. Many Western diplomats here believe, however, that the Kremlin in fact has no genuine interest in an overall peace settlement, but is aiming for continued unrest and conflict as a means of seeking leverage against the West there.