The Arabs: Coping in Khartoum

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The foreign ministers and special delegates from 13 Arab nations who met in steamy Khartoum last week were there to discuss ways and means of coping with their Israeli conquerors. As usual, they could not even cope with one another.

Algeria and Syria demanded that all Arab nations 1) break cultural and diplomatic ties with the U.S., Britain and West Germany for allegedly supporting Israel during the war, 2) organize a total trade boycott of the three countries, and 3) continue their current oil embargo. Egypt, Iraq and Republican Yemen were in general support. On the right, oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya—joined by Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco—insisted on maintaining all ties with the West and scrapping the oil embargo, which was costing each of them $500,000 a day in lost revenues. "It is time for the Arabs to stop blaming the United States for their failures and blame themselves, for the blame lies with us," said Tunisia's Justice Minister Mongi Slim.

Ahmed Shukairy, the fiery chief of the Egyptian-based Palestine Liberation Organization and a special Nasser guest in Khartoum, blasted right back, labeling Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba "a traitor to the Arab cause" for having advocated peace talks with Israel back in 1965. Furious, Slim stormed out of the conference hall. "There is no justification for Mr. Shukairy's presence," he told reporters. The arguments increased in intensity until Syria's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Makhous went on Khartoum television to announce that the whole conference was "a farce and a waste of time."

Hope for Yemen. One mildly hopeful note came when Egypt announced that it was ready to end its five-year war in Yemen, where 20,000 Egyptian troops are propping up a wobbly republican regime against 10,000 Saudi-supported tribesmen who want to restore the Imam Mohamed el Badr to his throne. Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad proposed that Egypt and Saudi Arabia revive their Jeddah Agreement of 1965, which calls for formation of a caretaker government, a phased withdrawal of Egyptian forces, and a plebiscite among Yemeni tribesmen to pick a permanent form of government.

In the Saudi summer capital of Taif, King Feisal was "pleased" at Nasser's offer, and the Imam—living in exile half a mile from Feisal's summer palace—promised to send his rugged royalist troops to fight with Egypt against Israel, if Nasser finally does live up to the agreement he signed two years ago.

In the end, action on Yemen, as well as all other important decisions, was deferred for a future summit of Arab leaders. But the delegates were even having trouble agreeing on a time or a place for such a meeting.