Egypt, Israel look to renew peace Baker continues tour of Middle East

July 22, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Staff Writer

CAIRO, Egypt -- Peacemakers are not always welcome in the Middle East. Yitzhak Rabin, on a peace mission from Israel, yesterday stopped at the stark and empty reviewing stands where Anwar el Sadat was gunned down 11 years ago for ending his country's war with Israel.

It was a blunt reminder of the cost of peace as the new Israeli prime minister attempted to resume the faltering peace process.

Mr. Rabin met yesterday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the first such meeting of Israeli and Egyptian leaders in six years. Friendly relations between the countries were interrupted by Mr. Sadat's assassination and by the reign of a hard-line Israeli government.

Both men hailed the meeting for its symbolism, though no concrete agreements were reached. Mr. Rabin invited Mr. Mubarak to Israel, and both suggested that Egypt might use its influence with other Arab countries to advance peace.

"Mr. Rabin is only in office one week," Mr. Mubarak cautioned reporters asking for results of their mini-summit. "We didn't go through so many details or ask for miracles. We exchanged views."

But the rapid events in the region since Mr. Rabin took office last week fostered expectations. U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III hustled off yesterday from meetings with Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem to visit four Arab capitals. He said he carried a message of hope.

"There is now an opportunity to inject some new momentum into the peace process," Mr. Baker said before leaving for Jordan and Syria. Israel's moves to diffuse obstacles to peace "inspire trust and confidence, and we hope and believe we will see some new statements, as well, from the Arab capitals."

After a meeting in Amman with King Hussein, Mr. Baker said that Jordan, too, seemed ready to seize a fresh chance for peace.

"I would like to think that there are opportunities now that should be taken advantage of and will be taken advantage of," Mr. Baker said. "I found a sense of that in my discussions today with His Majesty."

When Mr. Rabin took office July 13, his government moved to clamp down on Jewish settlements in Arab lands seized in the 1967 Six-Day War, and he has declared himself willing to make concessions in negotiations.

Egypt is the only Arab country with which Israel has a formal peace, but it has been frosty, with increasingly sharp words between the countries.

Mr. Rabin took the 50-minute jet ride to Cairo early in his administration in a dramatic attempt to change that.

"The fact that Rabin chose to have his first meeting abroad in an Arab country is not incidental," an Israeli diplomatic source said. "We have reason to believe the Egyptians appreciate that."

Mr. Mubarak did have kind words for the Israeli leader: "I know he supports peace, and I welcome that." The two men lunched in the presidential palace, and Mr. Rabin flew back to Tel Aviv after six hours in Egypt.

Neither man claimed too much from their meeting. Israel's partial freeze on settlements was "a good step on the right track, and we appreciate it. But we need much more," Mr. Mubarak said.

Mr. Rabin welcomed Egypt's help in persuading other Arab countries to make peace with Israel, but he was careful not to invite Egypt to be a mediator. The U.S.-sponsored peace talks must continue directly between Israel and the other countries, he implied.

TC The prime minister was gracious to his host country, which suffered nine years of alienation from the rest of the Arab world after it signed the Camp David peace accord with Israel in 1979.

Egypt "as the key Arab country, the leading Arab country . . . can serve as a breach of understanding with others," Mr. Rabin said. "Everybody has to remember that Egypt was in the spearhead of breaking historic walls and bringing about a peace treaty."

Mr. Mubarak, who succeeded Mr. Sadat after his assassination in 1981, revealed yesterday that former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir -- with whom he had never met -- had sought a meeting with him just 10 days before the June 23 Israeli election.

"I didn't refuse to meet with Mr. Shamir," Mr. Mubarak said. "But I asked him to work out something to be concluded during the meeting, to tell the public something, to give hope for the people of the Middle East that peace . . . could be achieved."

The meeting was not held.

Mr. Mubarak yesterday responded positively to Mr. Rabin's invitation to visit Israel, but he declined to set a date. In the past, Mr. Mubarak has expressed a similar willingness but never scheduled such a meeting.

"Frankly speaking, I need no invitation," he said. "Whenever I find it convenient, I will go to Israel."

Mr. Mubarak said Cairo was "open" to the negotiators of the formal peace process if they chose to have sessions there. Mr. Rabin replied that he would welcome an invitation to move the peace talks there after the next session in Rome.

After meeting with Mr. Mubarak, the prime minister was driven to Mr. Sadat's tomb, opposite the reviewing stands where the Egyptian leader was slain by Islamic fundamentalists.

Mr. Rabin then was driven to the synagogue in the center of Cairo that is the spiritual home to about 60 Jews who remain in Egypt, the last of a once-thriving Jewish community.

In Syria, Mr. Baker's meeting with President Hafez el Assad was postponed until today, reportedly because of the death of the Syrian leader's mother.

Mr. Baker is also due to fly to Cairo today to meet with Mr. Mubarak and then to Saudi Arabia.

While in Jerusalem, Mr. Baker made a "very brief" phone call to Mr. Shamir, a senior U.S. official said. Mr. Baker told Mr. Shamir that "he did not want to be in Israel without saying hello," the official said.

The call was "totally personal" and Mr. Shamir "said he appreciated it," the official said.

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