Caution's the byword as US watches Egypt

US foreign-policy makers are emphasizing caution, continuity, and firmness as they assess the impact of the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Like Middle East experts outside of government, they are uncertain about the future of Egypt under new leadership.

"I was very encouraged, and remain encouraged that the Egyptian vice-president committed the successor government to the continuation of the domestic and foreign policies of President Sadat, especially the route toward peace," Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. said at a press conference on Wednesday.

At the same time, Secretary Haig warned "external powers" not to "manipulate" the situation in Egypt

Without referring specifically to the Soviet Union or its radical client in the Region, Libya, Haig Added: "White there is a backdrop of propaganda from certain capitals in the region and elsewhere, it is the United States view that the period ahead is one that must be a reflection of the desires of the people of Egypt. And we intend to be a strong partner with Egypt."

Haig will lead the US delegation to Cairo for the funeral of President Sadat, scheduled for Oct. 10. He intends to remain in the Middle East for some days after that, meeting with government officials in a symbolic as well as substantive gesture of US concern.

Haig reiterated the US position of not genotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), but said the US would continue to play an active role in the resumed Palestinian autonomy talks.

The assassination of Sadat, he said, "makes the successful completion of the Camp David accords more -- not less -- important."

Secretary Haig had met with Sadat's likely successor, Egyptian Vice-President hosni Mubarak, just a week ago in Washington to talk about increased threats to Egypt and the Sudan from Libya. But Mr. Mubarak remains largely an unknown figure to US foreign policy analysts.

"The real question is, will he be up to the job," says Robert Hunter, director of Mideast affairs in the National Security Council under former President Carter. "The pressure is going to be quite intense. I think personally he's a strong individual and has proven courage. But does he have the skill, particularly as he gets into the thicket with the Israelis and as the Arabs try to pull him back into the fold?"

"Among other things, Israeli anxieties have to go up," he adds. "I think they're going to be extremely wary because of the real risks they undertake by giving back the Sinai. If be [Mubarak] pushes [for further diplomatic accommodations], they're going to have to go through some serious soul-searching."

Sadat had developed personal political problems with other Arab leaders, and not only because of his movement toward accommodation with Israel, says Majid Khadduri of the School of Advance International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

"This legacy doesn't exist in a personal way with Mubarak," he says.

Mr. Khadduri met with Sadat and Mubarak last March, and they talked about the need to develop friendlier relations with other Arab leaders.

"I think that the change in presidents could be ground for further conciliation. I think [Mubarak] could begin a rapproachment with other Arab leaders," he says.

"He himself is quite an able person," adds Khadduri, who recently has written a book on the chief political personalities in the Arab world.

"He has quite a following in the Army. He has his own supporters, so i think he stands all right in his position," he says.

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