Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. heard directly from two traditional Arab friends of the United States today that rebuilding of frayed ties depends on a shift in Washington's policies toward Arab-Israeli peace.
The message was delivered in unusually open and dramatic fashion in Amman, Jordan, this morning when King Hussein's foreign minister, Marwan Kassem, denounced Israeli policy in strong language while Haig stood by at a farewell ceremony. Failure to change the present course, Kassem said, will have "grave consequences for the peace and security of the region."
Leaving no doubt what Jordan had in mind, the royal palace announced that in talks with Haig, the king again had rejected the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel because "it failed to achieve a comprehensive peace and because it is incapable of achieving such a peace."
Here in Saudi Arabia several hours later, Haig received a similar message in less public fashion. The secretary of state was being told, according to a source familiar with official thinking, that progress toward a Palestinian-related settlement is imperative by late this year or early 1982.
Haig's meetings with the administrative leaders of the oil kingdom also covered U.S.-Saudi security relations, including the sale of gear to increase the effectiveness of American-supplied F15 warplanes and of highly sophisticated AWACS radar planes. In a secret message delivered several days ago, the U.S. reportedly agreed to keep U.S. Air Force AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) planes based here until five Saudi replacements can be produced in the United States and delivered starting late in 1985.
While the Saudis continue to reject U.S. bases in the kingdom, such an arrangement would keep several hundred U.S. military personnel stationed here to operate and maintain the AWACS for the next four years and probably well beyond that time, given Saudi Arabia's shortage of technicians.
Former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban told reporters in Jerusalem Sunday, following a breakfast meeting with Haig, that U.S. officials are suggesting "that Americans will be in strong control" of the AWACS. Eban said such assurances are insufficient to head off determined opposition from Israel, whose Air Force highly values its capacity for surprise and whose people find "the idea of Arab eyes scrutinizing us is scary."
Operations and information gathered by AWACS currently are under strict U.S. control, according to officials in Haig's party.
Since last September, when four U.S. AWACS were flown here to counter threats to Saudi security during the initial phase of the Iranian Iraqi war, the Saudis have provided "ground support," including housing of the U.S. personnel and fuel for the planes.
Officials accompanying Haig would not comment on reports that the two governments are considering a "lead-lease" arrangement for the radar plane in the immediate future, and possibly even after 1985.
As Haig flew into Riyadh airport, three of the big U.S. radar planes were visible near hangars on the ground, along with U.S. Air Force tankers capable of refueling the AWACS in flight.
Shortly before Haig's jet landed, Prince Abdullah, commander of the Saudi National Guard and a leading member of the royal family, was quoted by the Saudi state radio as saying the kingdom will seek the best and most modern weapons "away from any pressures or influence."
Haig and those accompanying him to the Middle East on his first overseas journey as secretary of state have made no effort to conceal their belief that U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, among others, have deteriorated seriously since the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel in September 1978. Partly to blame for the deterioration. Haig has said, was the lack of sufficient U.S. response to Soviet activity in the area and seeming America impotence as the shah of Iran was falling from power.
However, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have focused the blame on Camp David, telling Haig that a shift is needed in Washington's Middle East policy.