Henry Kissinger, who bedazzled the Arab world with his imposing personality and diplomatic sleights of hand in the mid-1970s, has lost his charm with the powerful kings and presidents who once warmly greeted him as America's premier policy and peace maker.
His latest trip to the Middle East, where he made it clear he would be reporting his findings to President Reagan although it was a "private" vacation, was largely seen here as a flop and served to create considerable anxiety on the future direction of U.S. diplomacy.
Kissinger met today with Reagan at the White House for a half hour in a meeting that had not been publicly announced to give his view of the trip, made in late December and early January. The White House released no details of the meeting.
King Hussein of Jordan, whom Kissinger long touted in Washington as an old friend, refused to allow him into his country. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Fahd, the real power of this kingdom, would not receive him, according to reliable sources here and in Washington, although an aide to Kissinger insisted the two had met.
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, for his part, took polite but direct issue with Kissinger's notion that it was time to include the Jordanian monarch in the Camp David talks.
For the most part, Kissinger was viewed in the Arab world as the harbinger of bad news and the symbol of past American policies that have become tattered and tainted with time and led so far only to a separate peace between Israel and Egypt.
Furthermore, the ambiguity surrounding his standing in the Reagan administration unsettled many of his old Arab friends and acquaintances. Washington's key Arab allies -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- are exceedingly nervous about the new administration. They are at once fearful about the meaning of Reagan's pro-Israeli campaign statements, hopeful, outside Cairo at least, that Reagan will break with the Camp David peace process and anxious to get going on the right foot with him, if at all possible.
Thus, the Saudis, Jordanians and even Sadat seemed to be eager to show their distance from Kissinger and their openness to a new approach from a Republican administration that, unlike Jimmy Carter's foreign policy team, will not have to keep looking over its shoulder in fear of being zapped by Kissinger from the right on matters like strategic arms limitation or the Panama Canal. The Arab leaders seemed to be acting as if Kissinger had suddenly become irrelevant, in at least the opening phases of Reagan's presidency.
Moreover, Arab officials were puzzled by Kissinger's traveling in the private jet of Columbia Broadcasting System chief executive William Paley along with Paley and Brooke Astor, a socialite and close associate of Kissinger's wife Nancy. Kissinger is reported to have suggested in some conversations that the trip was largely his wife's idea.
William Hyland, an aide to Kissinger, said in Washington today that Kissinger had made clear that "it was a private trip" and the "he wasn't there to negotiate anything or to persuade anybody about anything." Hyland added that "the facts of life are that it is very hard for Henry Kissinger to travel without being thought of as representing a Republican administration."
Hyland said Kissinger had discussed the trip in advance with Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) who then "checked with Reagan" and that "they wanted him to go and report back."
The Arab reaction to the trip was undoubtedly fueled by two statements made in Washington while Kissinger was on the road.
In the middle of the trip, Richard Allen, who is Reagan's national security adviser and an old rival of Kissinger's who has not masked his disapproval of Kissinger's policies and style, said that the former secretary of state represented nobody but himself. And in his confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Alexander Haig pointedly observed that he is "opposed in practice to roving ambassadors and special negotiators."
Whatever intent lay behind these statements when phrased in Washington, they were heard by relieved Arab governments to mean that Kissinger's support for the Camp David process, voiced in Cairo and Tel Aviv, did not represent official Reagan administration thinking at this point.
The Saudi government publicly dismissed Kissinger's unpublicized visit here as "an exploratory visit by someone outside the administration." The English-language daily Arab News commented: "The object of his visit was to enhance his already overblown reputation and to air his stale and graceless themes."
King Hussein's decision to bar Kissinger from visiting Jordan, however, was made long before Allen or Haig spoke out, suggesting the Jordanian monarch had been warned long in advance that he was on a strictly personal tour of the Middle East.
Even had Kissinger traveled with Reagan's blessings, he would have gotten a cool reception in most Arab capitals because his proposals for pursuing the Camp David process, his hinting at the so-called Jordanian option, and his talk of permanent security bases for U.S. forces in the Middle East are anathema to most Arab leaders.
Outside Egypt and Israel, Camp David has been emphatically rejected in all the major Arab capitals and their hope is that the Reagan administration will not, as Hussein said in an interview in Taif last week, become "prisoners of past policies, positions and mistakes."
Meanwhile even Sadat has rejected permanent "bases" or "facilities" for U.S. forces on his territory and is balking at the idea of signing a written agreement assuring U.S. forces temporary access to Egyptian airfields and other military installations.
As for the Jordanian option in any of its U.S. or Israeli forms, Hussein has just as emphatically ruled it out, saying, "There is no Jordanian option. There are no options. There is a reality: Palistine and the Palestinians and . . . the proper and only representative is the Palestine Liberation Organization.
While Kissinger apparently did not use the term "Jordanian option," his suggestion that it was time to include Jordan in peace talks as provided for in the Camp David agreements smacked here of another separate deal aimed at resolving the Palestinian problem at the expense of the Palestinians and on Israeli terms.
Kissinger's troubles began before he left Washington with the news that Hussein was "too busy" to receive him. Kissinger reportedly received what he considered a friendly letter from Hussein regretting his inability to receive him, but in an interview last week, Hussein indicated that he not only did not like Kissinger's personal diplomacy but was not about to lend his prestige to the former secretary's mission.
"I did not want Washington to feel that any particular individual had the key to all the doors in this part of the world," he said in a comment that suggested his intention as well to undercut Kissinger at home with the Reagan administration.
Sources here said Hussein still feels bitter about being left out of Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in the mid-1970s when he arranged two military disengagement accords between Egypt and Israel that set the stage for a peace treaty between these former foes in 1979.
Kissinger was warmly received in Cairo but left there in open disagreement with Sadat about when Hussein should be involved in the peace process between Egypt and Israel.
While Kissinger urged Hussein's immediate inclusion apparently as a means of breaking the impasse in the Camp David talks, Sadat reported to reporters after their talks, "I advised that [Hussein] join only after we reach an agreement on full autonomy" for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Here in Saudi Arabia, the reception for Kissinger was low-key to the point of keeping his visit a secret.
While Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal saw him, Crown Prince Fahd would not, sources said, and the state-controlled Saudi press said nothing about his presence until the government was forced by outside Arab reporting on it to give a brief statement denying its importance.
[Kissinger could not be reached today to say whether he had seen Fahd, who is the country's number two leader and is largely in charge of day-to-day operations, under the ailing King Khalid. Kissinger's aide, Hyland, said it was "absolutely true, beyond the shadow of a doubt," that Kissinger and Fahd had met and talked. Other sources here and in Washington, who follow the situation closely, said with equal certainty that no such meeting had been held.]
Kissinger also visited Oman, Somalia, and Morocco, in addition to Israel.
He was largely well-received in Israel and was widely perceived there, despite his disclaimers, as having been commissioned by Reagan as a sounding-board for future policy and to test reactions in the Middle East.
His visit also apparently went quite well in Somalia, a non-Arab state but a member of the Arab League. There, his comments urging arms for Somalia in return for U.S. access to Somali Red Sea naval and air facilities were bound to please President Mohammed Siad Barre, whose country recently was approved as a recipient of U.S. arms.
Despite Kissinger's difficulties in a number of Arab capitals, there is a feeling among outside Western observers that his visit might have gone much better had it been an official one on behalf of the Reagan administration. But without Reagan's official blessing, most Arab governments apparently felt they could afford to ignore him and hope that he did not represent the tidings of things to come from Washington.