Ticklish Transition Time in US Foreign Relations

Article excerpt

TO see power already flowing to President-elect Clinton, look at how quickly other nations have stopped importuning President Bush.

Take the Middle East peace process. Creating it was one of the Bush administration's genuine accomplishments. But with the latest round wrapped up in Washington last week some participants are now talking past Bush, toward Little Rock.

On Friday, for instance, Arab negotiators said Clinton would have to get Israel to come to terms over land and Palestinian rights - or they might pull out of the talks.

"Three or four months after the arrival of the new president to the White House, I think if the Arabs see the rounds are continuing without progress, then it would be time to reconsider the whole thing," said Muwaffaq al-Allaf, head of the Syrian delegation, at a news conference.

Arabs consider Clinton more pro-Israeli than Bush, and in voicing their concerns early they are undoubtedly undertaking something of an attempt at preemptive posturing. Still, the tone was striking, the more so because the talks are scheduled for at least one more round, in December, before Inauguration Day.

The United States, Russia, and other nations must "assume their role" and cajole Israel into concessions, said chief Palestinian negotiator Haidar Abdel-Shafi.

Would the Arabs actually pull out? Perhaps. A well-informed Arab diplomat in Washington, however, discounts the notion. "The peace process is already a reality in the Middle East," says this source, who wishes to remain nameless. "It has its own mechanism and well-delineated channels."

"The danger is that without a dynamic, active, energetic role by the US, especially in bridging gaps, the process will be very slow and very vulnerable," continues the Arab diplomat.

Thus the coming December round may largely mark time, giving the appearance of momentum while all parties await the arrival of the new president on stage.

THE president-elect's own behavior toward other nations is also an indicator of the steady flow of power into his hands. During the campaign, sharp charges paid off; after the election the realities of geopolitics take over, and with them the knowledge that even small rhetorical slips on foreign policy can have large ramifications. …