Mubarak gives USSR polite, but cold shoulder

Egypt's new president has rejected an early olive branch from the Kremlin while hinting he could change his mind later on. This, at least, seems the implication of a recent message from President Hosni Mubarak to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

The text of the brief Mubarak telegram, in reply to congratulations on his election as Anwar Sadat's successor, was provided by Egyptian officials. It has not yet been published here.

Mr. Brezhnev, who had watched Anwar Sadat boot out a succession of Soviet military advisers, diplomats, and other envoys from 1972 until shortly before his death, cabled the new Egyptian leader:

''Readiness to improve relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union in the interests of . . . our two countries and the establishment of a just peace in the Middle East will always meet with understanding and support from the Soviet side.''

Mr. Mubarak replied, according to officials here: ''I received with gratefulness and appreciation your cable congratulating me on the occasion of my election as president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, whose people are heading forward to the realization of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East and the entire world.''

The Egyptian leader's message made no mention of the possibility of improved ties with Moscow, raised by Mr. Brezhnev. Egyptian officials say privately that such a rapprochement appears out of the question for the time being.

Egypt's foreign policy priority, they say, remains to recoup the final part of the occupied Sinai from Israel by next spring, and to do all that it can to reach agreement under the US-sponsored Camp David framework on self-rule for the Palestinians.

An Egyptian who knows Mr. Mubarak well adds that, although the new President received military training in the Soviet Union, ''he is, on a personal level, even less fond of the Russians than Sadat was. . . . He seems, at times, almost allergic to them.''

But officials suggest privately that this need not be an obstacle to eventual normalization of relations with Moscow, and the Mubarak message appeared to leave open that possibility.

If perhaps only out of diplomatic nicety, the President did speak of ''gratefulness and appreciation'' for Mr. Brezhnev's telegram.

Mr. Mubarak also stressed Egypt's search for a comprehensive peace - the theoretical endpoint of the still-troubled Camp David negotiating process - rather than the Camp David formula, itself. A comprehensive peace is what Moscow says it wants. Camp David is anathema to the Soviets, no doubt mostly because it further excluded them from the Arab-Israeli diplomatic arena.

The Mubarak message, in short, could have been worded more sharply.

Egyptian officials, speaking privately, are seeking to dampen speculation among foreign analysts that a continued logjam in the US-mediated Palestinian autonomy talks might prod Cairo to seek a negotiating alternative. The officials stress Mr. Mubarak's firm public commitment to follow through with Egypt's Camp David commitments.

But they also suggest that, with these commitments intact, Mr. Mubarak would like gradually to thaw relations with some of his predecessor's foreign foes. This applies first of all to fellow Arabs, but could, the officials indicate, include Moscow as well.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.