King Hussein of Jordan met today with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to underline his determination to resist American efforts to win his support for the U.S.-engineered Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
The meeting at Mafrak air base, 45 miles north of Amman, came on the eve of the arrival here Sunday of a top-level U.S. mission headed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser.
[Brzezinski, accompanied by President Carter's son Chip, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. David J. Jones, arrived Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Brzezinski met with King Khalid and Prince Saud, the Saudi foreign minister, but there were no details of their talks.]
A communique issued after the four-hour meeting between Hussein and Arafat shed little light on their disscussions. It reiterated both leaders' known opposition to the Egyptian-Israeli accord and stressed the "grave dangers" that could result "for the Arab cause in general and the Palestinian issue in particular."
More important was the meeting's psychological impact. Preceded by a visit to Saudi Arabia by Hussein's top adviser, the meeting with Arafat was designed to signal Jordan's desire to keep all options open by demonstrating close relations with both radicals and fellow conservative Arabs.
The Mafrak meeting was an exact rerun of an encounter at the same air base in September after the Camp David summit conference first gave rise to the possibility of a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
Then, Hussein allowed Arafat back in Jordan for the first time since 1970 when Palestinian guerrillas were crushed as they maneuvered to overthrow the monarchy.
That meeting -- an act of obeisance by Arafat and an ending of the limbo in which the king had languished in radical Arab eyes -- also preceded an American mission, one which failed to budge the monarch from his stand that the Camp David formula for a Jordanian role in the West Bank was "unacceptable."
Today the monarch released 35 Palestinian political prisoners as a good-will gesture to mark the PLO leader's visit.
In the September meeting, as today, the monarch demonstrated he was the senior partner by keeping Arafat out of Amman and on a military base. Arafat returned in the late afternoon to Damascus.
Such symbolism is important in the Middle East, especially when the Palestinians are pressing for the right to station commandos again in the Jordan River Valley opposite the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Observers here discount any approval by the king of such a project.
Jordanian government skepticism about the West Bank autonomy aspects of the Egyptian-Israeli deal is so intense that some observers suggested that Brzezinski's mission is more a formality and that there is little expectation of moving Hussein's position at this juncture.
Last fall the king made no secret of his anger with his old American ally for failing to consult him during the Camp David talks and for assuming that he would go along with the West Bank plans.
Some observers also suspect the mission is partly designed to deflect possible congressional criticism which could arise if the administration had failed to make a public effort to win the king over.
In the light of the diminishing American role in budget support for Jordan -- 50 percent of the total budget is financed by foreigners and most of that now comes from Arab counties -- money does not seem a likely lever for the United States.
The presence of Gen. David F. Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a member of the Brzezinski mission, prompted speculation that the United States may offer Jordan more military material. But experience has taught Jordan that despite any U.S. administration's intentions, Congress effecitively ensures that Israel gets the moresophisticated weaponary and limits the quantity and quality of arms supplied here.
Increasingly, moreover, even conservative states such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia have begun questioning the old anticommunist line which used to go down so well.
This trend became noticeable after the recent visit to the Middle East by Secretary of Defense Harold Brown who reiterated U.S. determiniation following Iran's revolution, to resist what the administration sees as a radical Marxist challenge to the region.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud, in a recent interview with the Lebanese, magazine A1 Hawadess, made it clear that Saudi Arabia considers the first and foremost threat to be Israel, not the Soviet Union. He was speaking in the context of Brown's visit to his country.
Under scrutiny here is the administration's ability to bring about what years of experience has convinced the Jordanians is impossible -- complete Israeli evacuation from the West Bank, an end to millitary government and a political process leading to more than rump autonomy status now offered for the West Bank.
At best, the United States can hope that the Saudis do not cut off all funding to Egypt after a treaty is signed.
Saudi contributions to Egypt's economy have amounted to several billion dollars annually since 1972 when, at Saudi bidding, President Anwar Sadat kicked out 20,000 Soviet military advisers.
As fas as Jordan is concerned, the United States apparently hopes that the king will continue his moderate course and resist radical Arab efforts to force a break in diplomatic relations with Egypt once the separate peace is signed.