WASHINGTON — With morning sun streaming into the Blair House sitting room here, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leans forward for emphasis as he talks.
"It was an unfortunate development," he says.
Mr. Mubarak is referring to a veto cast last Friday in the UN Security Council by the new US ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson.
The veto was the first such action by the US in nearly two years. It killed a Security Council resolution that would have urged Israel to cancel plans for building new settlements in sensitive East Jerusalem.
The veto "will just give a signal to the Israelis" that they can proceed with their settlement plans, even though most of the world judges them a provocation to Arab feelings, says Murbarak.
When he meets today with President Clinton, Mubarak says he will ask the president to "do something" to prevail on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reverse the settlement decision.
At the same time, he understands the reality of the situation.
"It's very difficult for us to abolish this decision. But we will try hard to do what can be done to get Mr. Netanyahu and his government not to build ... more settlements," says the Egyptian leader.
Mubarak warns that should the decision stand, it could provoke anti-Israeli "violence" and will greatly complicate "final status" negotiations due to begin later this month on the most intractable disputes between the Israelis and the Palestinians, including the future of Jerusalem.
"I think it will be very difficult to resume negotiations on a final status. It will be very tough," he says.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Mubarak, and other Arab leaders contend that the Israeli decision to build 6,500 new Jewish homes on a dust-blown hill on the edge of East Jerusalem is a violation of the Oslo peace accords on Palestinian self-rule. They argue that the accords prohibit either side from taking any action that would prejudice the outcome of the negotiations on Jerusalem.
The Palestinians covet East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel, which captured the eastern sector in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and then annexed it as its capital, rejects any suggestion that the city be divided.
WHILE the Clinton administration has criticized the Israeli decision, it has not condemned it as a violation of the Oslo accords. Its decision to veto the UN resolution demanding that Israel reverse its move has exacerbated anti-US sentiments in Egypt and other Arab states, Mubarak says.
The US, he adds, must maintain the confidence of the Arab public that it is a fair broker.
Overall, the Egyptian president's visit to Washington comes at a delicate time in the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Palestinians feel that a number of unilateral decisions made by Prime Minister Netanyahu - including his East Jerusalem settlement plans - call into question whether he really wants the process to proceed.
Yet Netanyahu, for his part, is under increasing pressure from conservatives within his own governing coalition, who feel he has given up too much to the Palestinians already.
Against this background, President Mubarak is expected to ask his US counterpart this week to step up American involvement in the search for peace.
The US "should pay much more attention to this because it is very important to keep the feeling in the Arab world and the Islamic world that the United States, who is the main player in the peace process ... that it is fair, not taking this side or that side," he warns. "The United States should do much more to make the people feel that it is a fair partner."
Many Arab leaders have made similar requests in the past - in effect, asking the US to pressure Israel harder to make compromises or concessions.
Mubarak, however, has in one regard a standing to make the request that some other leaders do not. As he notes, it was Egypt, through Anwar Sadat, that "opened the big door to peace" in the Middle East.
Egypt was the first Arab nation to normalize relations with Israel under the Camp David accords. Since then it has maintained that peace, though relations have not always been warm. Mubarak has declined to pay a state visit to Israel, even though Netanyahu has made such a trip to Cairo.
In person, Mubarak is an engaging interviewee. He notes the fact of a reporter's left-handedness, for instance. He complains about the number of meetings he must attend in Washington - as opposed to the more relaxed pace of diplomacy in Paris or London.
He sharply rejects criticism by some members of Congress that Egypt has not done enough to pressure Mr. Arafat to fulfill his own side of the Oslo accords.
"We are not a tool in the hands of the Israelis," says Mubarak.