AMMAN, JORDAN, DEC. 11 -- Algeria's President Chadli Bendjedid launched a new Arab mediation effort in the Persian Gulf crisis today, arriving here on the first leg of a mission that Jordanian officials said is aimed at arranging a meeting between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd.
Bendjedid met with Jordan's King Hussein tonight and was expected to travel Wednesday to Baghdad for talks with Saddam. He also is expected to visit Saudi Arabia and Iran, and possibly stop in Oman and Syria, during a five-day regional tour.
Jordan and Algeria are seeking to revive an Arab diplomatic initiative to resolve the gulf crisis and secure an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait before Jan. 15, the date set by a the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to evict Iraqi troops.
Benjedid's mission seems more carefully prepared than earlier Arab peace-making efforts that collapsed in acrimony. Last week, he consulted with the leaders of the other North African countries -- Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania. He also met twice with a Saudi envoy, Ali bin Muslim, who is a close adviser to Fahd.
According to Jordanian officials, the Bush administration's proposal for a high-level exchange of visits between Washington and Baghdad spurred the Jordanian-Algerian initiative to explore the possibility of direct talks between Fahd and Saddam. They said King Hussein and Bendjedid agreed on the need for a dialogue that would consider purely Arab interests in the confrontation and not involve outside powers.
The Jordanian leader met Saddam last week, and the Iraqi leader reportedly expressed no objection to a meeting with King Fahd. But the Saudis have refused to consider direct talks with Baghdad unless they receive assurances and see tangible signs that Iraq is ready to pull out of Kuwait, according to officials here.
Bendjedid is regarded by many analysts as the best-placed Arab leader to serve as a mediator between the rival sides in the gulf conflict. His country has maintained good relations with Baghdad and Riyadh over the years and adopted an even-handed approach in the gulf crisis, denouncing both Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the deployment of foreign troops on Saudi soil. It also has deplored the inclusion of food in the global trade embargo against Iraq and backed Saddam's call for linkage between a settlement of the gulf crisis and progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
As Bendjedid launched his peace mission, he said, "the situation is very complex and dangerous, but we are not discouraged that reason and dialogue will prevail."
King Hussein's attempts to mediate have been spurned by the Saudi leadership, which believes he has sided too overtly with Saddam since the invasion.
Algeria enjoys unique prestige throughout the Arab world for its revolution three decades ago, when French colonial forces were defeated and compelled to retreat home.
The Algerians also have developed a reputation for reconciling foes in some of the most intractable conflicts in the Middle East. They mediated border disputes between Iran and Iraq and played an important role in helping wind down eight years of brutal war between those two hostile neighbors. Algeria also arranged the release of American hostages held by Iranian militants for 444 days after the 1979 Islamic revolution.