The Reagan Administration reached some important conclusions about Middle East policy during its first term. In 1985, it tried to apply them. The framework for its diplomatic activism had been laid down in the September 1982 Reagan Plan, but to this were now added calculations on the difficulty of mediating an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, the need to await decisive action by the involved regional states, a skepticism about Arab eagerness for negotiations, and the belief that the United States must stand its ground until the proper opportunity for peace arrived.
In contrast to previous years, there was no regional crisis to force dramatic U.S. action. Nor was there any major upsurge of Arab-Israeli tension, internal upheaval, or threat to Persian Gulf security brought on by Islamic fundamentalist revolutionaries or a widening Iran-Iraq war. Instead, there were experiments with new political alignments, including cooperation among Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, between Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and even, at year’s end, between Jordan and Syria.
Fresh ideas were developed for forming a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, frameworks for an international conference, and formulas for mutual Arab-Israeli recognition. While diplomatic maneuvers made little material progress in 1985, the channels opened might still provide a foundation for future breakthroughs. The two sides are still far apart, but some kind of negotiated solution seems more imaginable now than ever before.
Arab-Israeli peace is but an important aspect, rather than the sole consideration, of U.S. regional objectives, which continued to be defined by four principles: limiting Soviet influence while maximizing its own; encouraging regional stability against the danger of war or radical revolutions; supporting and strengthening allies; and assuring the continued supply of oil at reasonable prices. While, as always, there were numerous points of danger and tension in the Middle East, in 1985 the overall picture in regard to these four concerns was a reasonably positive one.
The United States has a greater degree of leverage in the Middle East because of the region’s lack
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