Mubarak visit may signal start of cool but stable US-Egyptian friendship
Washington — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is developing a less intimate relationship with the United States than the one that prevailed under the late President Anwar Sadat.
In the view of some specialists here, a cooler approach may in the end help produce more domestic tranquillity for Mr. Mubarak and even lead to a more stable and long-lasting Egyptian-US relationship. But such a positive result will require sophisticated diplomacy from the US.
Mubarak is in the process of restoring better relations with the Soviet Union , with other Arab states, and, in particular, with Soviet-backed Libya, a country viewed by the Reagan administration as the pariah of the Middle East. In briefings for reporters, US officials shrug off Mubarak's move to bring back to Egypt some 60 Soviet technicians, arguing that they are needed to keep some old Soviet-supplied factory equipment operating. But if Mubarak plays his cards correctly, his tentative opening to the Soviets could provide him with new options and with more leverage over the United States.
One administration official who briefed reporters on President Mubarak's visit to Washington Feb. 2-5 described the change from Sadat's era as one largely of style. As he described it, Mubarak is emphasizing a more modest style of leadership than the flamboyant style which was Sadat's trademark. While Sadat attacked both the Soviets and his Arab adversaries with unrelenting harshness, Mubarak has adopted a conscious policy of not engaging in polemics against any nation, including Libya. But the US official indicated that Egypt under Mubarak is just as opposed to ''the expansion of Soviet influence'' in the Middle East as Sadat's was.
But, according to the well-informed biweekly ''Middle East Policy Survey,'' the US ambassador to Cairo, Alfred Atherton, believes that the new Egyptian leadership is in the midst of debate over how closely Egypt should align itself with Washington after April 25, the date when Israel is supposed to return the final portion of Sinai to Egypt. Mr. Atherton is reported to have told the Reagan administration that the US response to Mubarak's requests could have a dramatic impact on future US-Egyptian relations.
The administration is obviously trying to be forthcoming on some of Egypt's requests. Although officials have yet to publicly confirm it, the administration is reported to be planning to ask the Congress to increase military aid to Egypt from $900 million a year to $1.3 billion. Egypt also receives some $1 billion in economic aid per year. Egypt would like to see fewer strings attached to the use of such aid, and the administration may be able to accommodate on that issue. Egypt wants faster delivery of American military equipment, but that request may be more difficult to meet.
Administration officials say that President Mubarak's brief meetings with President Reagan, scheduled for Feb. 3, are likely to amount mostly to get-acquainted sessions. This will be their first meeting in their capacities as presidents. The two leaders will spend only 25 to 30 minutes alone together, with a follow-up meeting of an hour to include a larger group of participants from the two countries. The presidents will again have a few minutes alone together in the evening before dinner.
Some Israeli officials and American specialists are concerned, meanwhile, that Egypt's position on the Palestinian autonomy issue seems to have hardened. But most observers appear to believe that Egypt will not make any sudden break with Israel, even after the return of the final portion of Sinai.
President Mubarak gives every indication of believing, at the same time, however, that Egypt under Sadat had isolated itself to a greater degree than was wise.
''Mubarak will be strong, firm, and committed in his relationship with the United States,'' says Judith Kipper, a resident scholar and Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Insitutute. ''But he is not going to be a 'yes man' for the United States.''