President Carter's call for a Middle Eastern "security framework" faces strong suspicion across most of the Arab world, absorbed by its conflict with Israel and its reluctance to be seen cooperating with the Jewish state's chief ally.
The massive Soviet military intervention in Moslem Afghanistan has many Arabs looking nervously to the north and some checking the activities of Soviet-backed factions within their own countries. Nevertheless, the idea of cooperating with the United States in response has been embraced openly only by President Anwar Sadat's Egypt and the tiny Persian Gulf sultanate of Oman.
As a result, the promise of regional coordination with the United States against the threat of further Soviet moves toward the gulf seems likely to follow the current of Arab-U.S. relations on other issues, Arab analysts say.
Chief among them is the effort to set up acceptable Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank, they add. The way Arab leaders view U.S. policy in the autonomy negotiations will in large measure determine their willingness to cooperate, even discreetly, with the United States in regional security planning, according to these sources.
Saudi Arabia -- conservative, zealously Moslem and eager to remain Washington's friend -- is considered by observers here as a litmus test of whether Carter's doctrine for the Middle East can move from a slogan to practical security arrangements.
"The Saudis have a real problem," an Arab analyst said. "They are really afraid of the Russians and also were worried about what is going on in their own country. But at the same time they can't be seen to be cooperating with the United States" because of their opposition to the Camp David agreements sponsored by Washington for Egypt and Israel.
Saudi Arabia also is considered especially important for Carter's suggestions because of its influence in other Arab nations. Most gulf countries are expected to fellow the Saudi lead in the attempt by Washington to enlist cooperation for the area's security.
Kuwait, a Saudi neighbor, announced today its proposals for this weekend's Islamic conference in Pakistan in what some observers here interpreted as a reflection of the Saudi position. Kuwait will urge a resolution calling on the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan, a spokesman said, but also calling on Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territories.
Although they made no direct response to Carter's appeal today, Saudi rulers previously have declared that they will allow no U.S. bases or other military facilities on Saudi soil.
Some reports suggest that the Saudis also have made clear to the Carter administration privately the link they intend to maintain between progress in Palestinian demands for a homeland and U.S. aims for regional security.
The Saudi leadership is expected to underline these concerns again in discussions next week with Sol Linowitz, Carter's special Middle East negotiator. Linowitz is scheduled to visit the kingdom after a new round of Egyptian-Israeli autonomy talks in Israel.
Linowitz and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance already have responded indirectly to the Saudis, telling Israel that the best contribution it could make now to counter the Soviets in the Middle East would be progress in the autonomy talks.
Another major Persian Gulf nation, Iraq, previously has rejected attempts by Oman to enlist support for a gulf security agreement, taking into account U.S. and European interests in the vital waterway. Iraq's response to Carter's new appeal was expected to be even more negative. President Saddam Hussein has emphasized repeatedly his desire to keep gulf security in the hands of gulf nations, without outside help.
At the same time, Hussein has dispatched Foreign Minister Saadoun Hammadi to the Islamic conference to register Iraqi condemnation of the Soviet intervention in afghanistan. This was seen as a gesture designed to point out Iraq's determination to be seen as a champion of the so-called nonaligned nations. Baghdad is the site of the next nonaligned conference and Hussein is the movement's incoming president.
Syria, however, has reacted to the Soviet moves in Afghanistan with reaffirmations of friendship for Moscow. Underlining its loyalty, the Syrian government announced today that Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko will visit Damascus next week.
Similarly, the Palestine Liberation Organization today condemned Carter's appeal as an attempt to extend American "hegemony" throughout the Middle East. A PLO spokesman, Majed Abu Sharar, charged the United States with trying to use concern over the Soviet Union to distract Arab states from opposition to the Camp David agreements.
"Shades of the Baghdad Pact," sneered one PLO analyst, referring to the U.S. attempt in the 1950s to line up Middle Eastern nations in a defense treaty against the Soviet Union and the Soviet-backed Arab nationalism then promoted by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser.
A PLO official said the guerrilla leadership feels the Carter administration is too preoccupied with the crisis in Iran and Afghanistan -- and too concerned about this year's presidential elections -- to make a major effort now on the autonomy talks.