King Hussein of Jordan, increasingly dissatisfied with the Palestinian autonomy talks between Egypt and Israel, is pressing for a coherent Arab peace program to foster new and different negotiations including all parties to the Middle East conflict.
The Hashemite monarch, who has refused to join the Camp David peace process, said in an interview last night that his initiative is designed to present for the first time a clear idea of what the Arab states are for as well as what they oppose concerning peace talks with Israel.
Hussein was careful to deny that his search for a new Arab peace platform and broader talks is aimed at becoming "part two" of the current negotiations among Egypt, Israel and the United States. But his goal nevertheless seemed to coincide with the hopes of many U.S. diplomats in the Middle East that the Camp David talks eventually can evolve into negotiations including Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians for a comprehensive peace settlement.
The king's proposals, which he has been pushing in trips this month to Iraq and Syria and this week to Saudi Arabia, were seen therefore as a potentially important element in a speeding and increasingly open discussion about what to do next if the autonomy talks remain stalemated beyond their May deadline, as recently predicted by the chief U.S. negotiator, Robert Strauss.
"It is my feeling that we in the Arab world should do more than we have done until now, at least among ourselves, to . . . translate our joint decision at the summit meeting at Baghdad -- to seek a peaceful solution if possible . . . -- into a framework that we can discuss with others the world over before going back to the United Nations to see what could be done there," Hussein said.
This would be done "with the help of all concerned in the area, with the Palestinians themselves and others outside the Camp David sphere and the rest of the world." He added, "We hope that we can at least crystallize an Arab position."
The Jordanian monarch is considered a key figure in the Middle East dispute because he controlled the West Bank before it was occupied by Israel in 1967 and about half the population of his country consists of Palestinians. Hussein's influence also is valued because he is close to the Saudi royal family that controls the world's largest oil-exporting economy, although Jordan has no oil of its own.
So far, Hussein has resisted calls -- notably by Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat -- for use ofArab oil as a weapon to force Washington into pressuring Israel to relinquish the territories it conquered in the 1967 war from Jordan and Syria.
It is this sort of prudence that has made Hussein particularly well placed to gather the Arab states around a common position for negotiations with Israel. The monarch, a veteran of volatile inter-Arab relations, is under no illusions, however, that his task will be easy.
Although he repeatedly returned to the theme during a 40-minute interview, he carefully avoided making a unified Arab stand a precondition for broader peace talks with Israel.
Hussein, 43, spoke at his Basman Palace in soft, deliberate tones, leaning forward in a stuffed leather armchair. He wore an open-necked brown sport shirt with a tiny "H" monogrammed on the breast. It was his last evening in Amman before his scheduled departure for Saudi Arabia and the Moslem Haj or pilgrimage. The trip also is to include talks with the Saudi leadership and other visiting Arab leaders.
The monarch reiterated his firm refusal to participate in the peace negotiations going on now or in any spinoff of these talks that would exclude Palestinians and Arab nations such as Syria that are not part of the talks.
Hussein sees a unified Arab front as the only way to present the Arab case against Israel. This elusive goal will be a chief subject of discussion at the Arab summit planned for Nov. 20 in Tunis, he said.
Parallel efforts will be under way to shift the peace talks to another forum, perhaps the United Nations, that embraces all Arabs concerned including Palestinians, he added.
Now is an appropriate time for taking the initiative, Hussein said, citing little movement in the Camp David autonomy talks, combined with what is seen as Palestinian successes with public opinion in the United States and Europe.This has made Western governments more willing to listen to the Arab case and hard-line Arabs more willing to argue it, Hussein said.
The key to what Hussein called mistaken U.S. policy at Camp David, he said, lies in a false impression that Egypt "can lead this area to war or that it can lead this area to peace."
"Egypt is a very important part of this area. No doubt about that," he added. "No one belittles Egypt's suffering. But the rest [of the Arabs] are not a flock of sheep. And the Palestinian problem is the core of the problem. It's the West Bank. It's Gaza. It's Palestinian rights. It's maybe Jordan, Syria. This is where the problem really lies. It doesn't lie with Egypt." s
U.S. pressure to bring Hussein into the autonomy negotiations soon after the Camp David accords and the king's refusal to join have pushed relations between Washington and its longtime Arab ally to what Hussein called an all-time low.
Signs of the strain emerged in U.S. refusal to sell Husein F16 fighters, the king's recent decision to buy British-made Chieftain tanks instead of U.S. equipment and President Carter's refusal to invite Hussein to the White House during his visit to the United States last month to address the U.N. General Assembly.
Reports in Amman say the king wanted to see Cartr to explain his ideas on broadening the Middle East peace negotiations. Hussein declined nevertheless to criticize the U.S. president, but he strongly implied that the reason for the chill in relations lies in Washington.