Syrian President Hafez Assad arrived here today for talks with King Fahd that were expected to center around Syria's opposition to the U.S.-brokered agreement for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and the next Arab moves in the stalled Middle East peace process.
The Syrian leader made no statement upon his arrival at Jeddah's international airport where he was welcomed by Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah.
Assad arrived here a few hours after the departure of Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who met with the king until early this morning, briefing him on the details of the agreement.
It is still not clear whether the Syrian reaction to the accord constitutes an outright refusal to cooperate or a tactical move aimed at obtaining political concessions from Lebanon and the United States and possibly greater financial backing from Saudi Arabia as well.
But western diplomats and analysts here did not discount the possibility that Syria was angling for a role in the overall peace process, from which President Reagan's Middle East initiative largely excludes it, in return for its cooperation with the United States over Lebanon.
In any case, the need for Assad's commitment to a simultaneous withdrawal of the 40,000 Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon has provided the Syrian leader with new bargaining chips he is now likely to use to the full with Washington and other Arab capitals.
The Syrian objections to the accord are reported to focus on the special security zone it would set up in southern Lebanon to protect northern Israel and the residual presence it would allow the Israelis. In the view of many Arabs, Israel could use this presence as a springboard for another military operation.
Syria is likely to seek at least the establishment of a similar security zone in eastern Lebanon for itself and assurances from the Beirut government regarding Lebanon's future relations with Israel.
Syria has long regarded Lebanon's Bekaa Valley as an integral part of its defenses and it has long maintained a historic claim to most of Lebanon as part of a Greater Syria.
Thus it is unlikely to be less demanding than Israel in seeking acknowledgment of its own special relationship with Lebanon.
Assad's visit here today was planned several months ago and not directly linked to the Shultz mission in the Middle East, according to Saudi sources. But the timing of it just after the announcement of the Israeli-Lebanese accord leaves little doubt as to what the two leaders will probably concentrate on during their talks, particularly given the Syrian opposition to it.
The Syrian leader's visit came as King Hussein of Jordan left Amman for a private visit to London, where he was expected to discuss the Lebanese-Israeli agreement with British leaders, informed Jordanian sources said, according to Reuter. Meanwhile, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat continued his stay in Damascus, where he is meeting with the PLO executive council.
Fahd has given no indication what he thinks about the accord or whether he is willing to use Saudi Arabia's political and financial influence with Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia is Syria's main financial backer among the Arab nations committed to supporting the so-called front-line states in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It provides hundreds of millions of dollars annually and often has given additional hundreds of millions to gain Syrian acquiescence, or support, for Saudi policy.
Nonetheless, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisal made it clear at an airport press conference upon Shultz's departure that his kingdom rejects any notion of a direct "linkage" between the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian troops from Lebanon and thus of Syria "joining in" the Israeli-Lebanese agreement.
"The presence of Syrian troops does not link in any way to the presence of the occupying Israeli troops," he said. But he quickly added that Saudi Arabia did not expect this to become "a bone of contention" between Syria and Lebanon and expressed the conviction that Syria would carry out "a request" from the Lebanese government for the Syrians to withdraw their troops.
Lebanon has said it regarded the mandate of the Arab Deterrent Force, under which the Syrians came to that country in 1976, as finished and has closed the force's headquarters in Beirut. But Syria still has not removed its troops.