The Soviet Union, bidding for a role in the diplomatic reshaping of the Middle East, outlined a far-reaching, six-point plan Saturday for regional security, including steps toward settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Seeking to build on the same international resolve that defeated Iraq and restored Kuwaiti independence, the Soviet plan calls for "addressing without delay the problem of seeking a settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict."But the plan, unlike past Soviet proposals, carefully avoids going further, either in setting specific goals such as the establishment of a Palestinian state or in proposing ways such as an international conference to achieve them, in the hope of avoiding immediate rejection by Israel.
"In the Middle East, for the Arab-Israeli conflict, we favor a flexible, multioption approach," Vitaly I. Churkin, chief spokesman of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, replied when pressed by Arab journalists on they called a "retreat."
"We do not think that without an international conference there can be no progress. There can be, definitely. There is a role for bilateral contacts, for the U.N. Security Council, for smaller regional forums. An international conference is still seen as playing an important role in the future sometime."
Presented by President Mikhail Gorbachev on Friday to Secretary of State James Baker, the proposals will be the main thrust in a major Soviet diplomatic offensive as Moscow tries to ensure itself a continued role in a region that it has long seen as vital to its geostrategic interests.
Among the key elements in the Soviet plan, which will be put by special envoys to leaders in the Middle East, Europe and the Third World:
- Reductions in arms shipments to the region, including new barriers to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
- Establishment of demilitarized zones, limits on troop concentrations, advance notice of military maneuvers and other "confidence-building measures" similar to those in Europe.
- Withdrawal of foreign troops from the region with the possible exception of a U.N. peacekeeping or observer force, preferably formed from Arab or Muslim countries.
- Gradually harmonizing the rates of economic development among Persian Gulf states. Aimed at preventing small rich countries from becoming prey for larger poor ones, the proposal implies that the countries in the region might agree on a plan to share oil revenues.
- A greater role for the United Nations.