Soviet leader Yuri V. Andropov made a major overture to the Arab world today by warmly greeting a high-ranking group of Arab officials that included King Hussein of Jordan and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud.
Andropov hailed their visit here as "in itself a quite significant phenomenon" and voiced the hope for a general improvement in Soviet-Arab relations. In a joint statement issued later, the two sides noted that the Arab plan for a Middle East settlement adopted in September "coincides" with Soviet policy toward the region.
The presence of Saud in the group led by Hussein was seen by diplomatic observers here as an opportunity for the Soviets to reach out toward moderate and conservative Arab states to regain ground in the Middle East that Moscow lost following its expulsion from Egypt in 1972.
Saud is the first ranking Saudi official to come here in 50 years. The first and last Saudi leader to come here was Saud's father, prince and later king Faisal, who visited in 1932. Faisal was then received by the titular head of state, Mikhail Kalinin.
Moscow has repeatedly hinted that it wanted to establish relations with Saudi Arabia. The staunchly conservative kingdom does not have diplomatic relations with any communist state.
In the Kremlin meeting today, which reportedly lasted nearly two hours and was followed by a luncheon, the government news agency Tass quoted the participants as having "reiterated their mutual desire to deepen cooperation between the Arab countries and the Soviet Union."
Tass said that "it was agreed to continue to keep in touch on questions" dealing with a Middle East settlement.
The agency added that "it was noted with satisfaction" that the Arab plan for a Middle East settlement adopted at the Fez summit last September "actually coincides" with Soviet policy. "A realistic opportunity is thereby created for extensive, coordinated action with a view of facilitating the achievement of genuine peace in the region."
Andropov held a private meeting yesterday with the Jordanian monarch, apparently to underscore Moscow's doubts about President Reagan's peace plan, which aims to encourage moderate Arab states to support a Palestinian entity associated with Jordan.
The Russians have been concerned about prospects of "common points" between Reagan's peace plan and the "Jordanian-Palestinian federation" discussed last month during a visit to Amman by Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.
During Andropov's first week in office, Tass indirectly criticized Jordan by assailing unnamed Arab states as "regrettably expressing their readiness to help Washington to find a bridge between the historic resolution of the Fez conference and imperialist designs of the Camp David framework."
The Tass statement on today's meeting involving Andropov, Premier Nikolai Tikhonov and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and Hussein, Saud and the foreign ministers of Algeria, Jordan,, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia emphasized the near identity of the Fez plan and the Soviet Mideast proposals advanced by Andropov's predecessor, Leonid Brezhnev, Sept. 15.
The Soviet side "stressed" in the talks that Reagan's plan was designed "to divide the Arab countries and to impose on them decisions that suit only Israel and the United States, particularly to prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state."
The Fez plan calls for an independent Palestinian state in the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Reagan's plan envisages self-rule for the Palestinians in association with Jordan.
The Soviet position is identical to the Fez plan except for the additional provision that it explicitly recognizes the right of Israel to exist as a state, a stance that is only impicit in the Fez formulation.
The Arab delegation, which also included a PLO representative and the general secretary of the Arab League, was set up at the Fez summit to outline the Arab plan to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Similar delegations have visited Washington and Paris and this one is due to depart for Peking Saturday.
Political observers here noted that the Tass statement was cautiously phrased and described the meeting as having been held in a "businesslike and friendly atmosphere."
Hussein was quoted by Tass as having said that the Kremlin talks showed evidence of close cooperation between Moscow and the Arab world.
There was speculation in diplomatic circles that Saud's visit could lead to some form of rapprochement between the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia. But well-informed sources said the Arabs appear to be playing their "Soviet card" in an effort to put pressure on the Reagan administration and that one should not expect establishment of Moscow-Riyadh relations in the immediate future.
Andropov, who seems inclined to play a personal role in discussions with visiting foreign dignitaries, made it clear that he wanted to improve relations with all Arab countries and publicly confined himself to talking in general about Soviet-Arab relations.
These relations, he said, had "long been good on the whole, but, perhaps, can become even better, even more useful."