Mubarak's Message to Clinton

EGYPTIAN President Hosni Mubarak's visit to the United States this week was high profile, with mixed results. Mr. Mubarak, the first Arab leader to meet with President Clinton, offered advice about curbing the international terrorism of Islamic fundamentalists and suggested that Washington could have foreseen the World Trade Center bombing.

The Egyptian leader wanted to show he is the leader of a stable, democratic country. Yet his visit also occasioned focus on Egypt's own brutal repression of Islamic groups, and its growing economic and population problems.

Mubarak's main task, coming from a meeting of Arab leaders in Damascus last week, was to deliver a message about the Arab-Israeli peace process, and to return home with an answer. The message: In order for Arab nations to retain solidarity in the resumption of peace talks April 20, the US had to yield a bit on the return of the Palestinian deportees. The answer from Mr. Clinton was "No."

This answer will be received bitterly in the Arab world. The new administration is perceived as tilting toward Israel - cutting a questionable deal on the deportees and meeting early with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Despite this, Mubarak knows, as do other Arab leaders, that Clinton cannot just now push Mr. Rabin to accept deportees. Rabin is the best Israeli leader to deal with but is in serious trouble at home and can't be undermined.

Even so, the answer is not easy to take. Arab leaders want talks but also want unity. Unless the PLO gets concessions, however, its leaders will not have the internal political leverage to attend.

Clinton did make key statements reaffirming the peace process and the US commitment to UN resolutions 242 and 338. This will help. But he can go further in urging "land for peace." Importantly, the White House must not encourage a separate Israeli-Syrian peace. That could set the Arabs and the Palestinians back to pre-Camp David status.

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