Clinton unites leaders against terrorism Former enemies join with Israel in Egypt

March 14, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - President Clinton showed the clout of the United States yesterday by producing an extraordinary meeting of Israeli, Arab and other world leaders to condemn terrorism.

The leaders of 28 countries, the United Nations and the Palestinian authority briefly besieged this serene Red Sea resort to denounce the recent bombings in Israel and promote the Middle East peace process.

"No one would have conceived of this happening only a few months ago," Mr. Clinton declared after the summit.

"When President Clinton issues an invitation, you don't just throw it in the trash," said a pleased Israeli spokesman, Uri Dromi.

The leaders agreed in the three-hour conference to establish an anti-terrorism "working group" to tighten cooperation between countries.

The hallmark spectacle of yesterday's conference was the gathering of 13 Arab leaders, side by side with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other presidents and prime ministers, all denouncing the suicide bombings that killed 61 people in Israel in nine days.

Most of those Arab countries supported the Arab wars against Israel over the past 48 years. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who had sent dozens of guerrilla and terrorist attacks against Israel in his long battle for Palestinian freedom, also denounced the bombings and yesterday proclaimed all killing to be a violation of Islam.

"God has forbidden violence and the killing of human beings," said Mr. Arafat.

The conference was hastily organized by Mr. Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in just nine days after the latest suicide bombing in Israel, this one in Tel Aviv.

The delegations along with hundreds of journalists de- scended on Sharm el-Sheikh, bumping some tourists out of hotel rooms and creating an air traffic jam at the resort's single-runway airport.

"It's interesting to see, but I don't know if it will do anything," said Esther Zimmermann, 25, of Lucerne, Switzerland, sunning on the beach. Her plans for scuba-diving yesterday were blocked when she found the harbor closed off by the military.

"These people all agree. To really discuss the problem, maybe the terrorists should be there, too," she quipped. A few people on the beach wore T-shirts reading "Stop Terrorism."

That so many leaders came on short notice including the presidents of Russia and France, the chancellor of Germany, and prime ministers of Britain, Ireland, Italy, Canada and Spain was largely a testament to the importance of the United States.

Some countries represented at the conference, such as Algeria and Bahrain, were not likely moved by the humanitarian concerns of terrorism, as they are cited regularly for human rights abuses.

'Solidarity'

Mr. Clinton said he urged countries to show "solidarity" with Israel. Although the meeting was billed as a discussion of international terror, virtually the sole focus was on the attacks against Israelis and the effect on the Middle East peace talks.

While the organizers touted the symbolic success of the conference, officials insisted that there also were practical achievements that will reduce terrorism.

Mr. Clinton said the participants agreed to a "working group" on counterterrorism that will meet within two weeks. The group will coordinate the countries' sharing of intelligence and ease the extradition of accused terrorists.

The president said membership in the working group would be open to those countries that participated in yesterday's summit. He did not say, however, how many actually will join.

"Will this stop future bombings? If we're talking about the next few weeks, no," said Mr. Dromi. "Is there a chance of reducing bombings in future years? Yes."

Criticizing Iran

Mr. Peres cast Iran as the chief source of terrorism. Iran, Iraq and Libya were not invited to the conference. Syria and Lebanon, which are host to several Palestinian and Lebanese groups that have attacked Israel, boycotted the conference.

Iran is "the capital of terrorism," Mr. Peres said. "This terrorism is not anonymous. It has a bank account, it has an infrastructure, it has a network camouflaged as charity organizations. It is spearheaded by a country Iran."

But Israel was unable to persuade the conference to adopt sanctions against or a condemnation of Iran. Arab states were unenthusiastic about singling out Iran.

In the 28 speeches of the con- ference, officials of several countries echoed the complaints of Mr. Arafat that the virtual confinement of Palestinians to their towns and villages is collective punishment by Israel. Mr. Arafat called the sanction "starvation."

At a news conference after the summit, Mr. Mubarak said: "I discussed it with Prime Minister Peres. It is not going to last long."

Mr. Clinton confirmed that belief, but seemed to defend the closure: "Viewed through one eye, it's collective punishment. Viewed through another eye, it is [an] elementary security measure at a time when it is difficult to tell who is wrapped in plastic" explosives, he said.

Mr. Clinton noted that Israel eased the closure somewhat yesterday, allowing delivery of food to the Gaza Strip.

But later, Mr. Peres told Israeli reporters: "It's not the time to ease up, because past experience shows that when we ease up, he [Mr. Arafat] does, too. This time, we want him to go all the way."

Pub Date: 3/14/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.