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Arabs Praise Reagan's Support for Peace in Middle East - 2004-06-06

The Arab world remembers former President Ronald Reagan with respect and, in some cases, admiration for his efforts regarding a host of issues that affected the region during his eight years in office.

According to political analysts and former diplomats in the Arab world, Ronald Reagan will be remembered positively in the region for, among other things, his efforts to find a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

According to former Egyptian diplomat Abdullah al-Ashaal, Mr. Reagan was the first to discuss a possible land-for-peace agreement involving the Palestinians and Israelis.

"The Arab world was supported by President Reagan in his plan for the Middle East when he coined, for the first time, the land-for-peace formula," said Mr. al-Ashaal. "And, this has been adopted by the Rabat summit in 1982. So, President Reagan was, in fact, very favorable to the Arab world."

Former Egyptian foreign minister and former head of the Arab League, Esmat Abdel Meguid, says Arab leaders knew President Reagan wanted to help diminish Arab-Israeli tension.

"There was certainly an effort to understand the problems of the region," he said. "And, in that respect, he was trying to find solutions to the very difficult Arab-Israeli problem. He spent a lot of time doing that. In Egypt, we certainly felt his desire to do that."

In 1982, at the request of Lebanon's government, President Reagan sent U.S. Marines to Beirut to help oust armed factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"There was considerable support in Lebanon to get the PLO out, because that was the only way to end the Israeli assault on Beirut," said Sami Baroudi, the head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut. "Of course, it did not work out like that, but nevertheless, there was support for the mission."

In 1983, President Reagan withdrew U.S. Marines from Lebanon, following a suicide attack that killed 241 American soldiers at a military barracks in Beirut.

Mr. Baroudi says Mr. Reagan will also be remembered for his role in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, in which arms were secretly sold to Iran with the proceeds used to illegally fund right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

President Reagan later acknowledged the secret arms sale to Iran, saying it was hoped Tehran would then use its influence to help free American hostages being held by a pro-Iranian terrorist group in Lebanon. But Mr. Reagan said he never knew that proceeds from the sales were being funneled to Nicaraguan rebels.

The issue came to light in the mid-1980s at time when the United States was supporting Iraq's war effort against Iran.