Mubarak offers olive branch to Saudis

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's visit to Riyadh to participate in mourning Saudi King Khalid is a gesture indicating his readiness to turn a page in Egyptian-Saudi relations.

His decision to present his condolences himself, ignoring the lack of full formal relations between the two countries, leaves no doubt that he is eager to surmount the obstacles impeding this process. Recent Saudi statements have toughened the conditions for the restoration of Egyptian-Arab link.

It is also significant that Mr. Mubarak's first initiative in the field of foreign policy is directed toward the Gulf kingdom that was Egypt's ally and partner before the late President Anwar Sadat ignored the Saudis and forged ahead for peace with Israel four years ago.

Much will depend on the outcome of Mr. Mubarak's meeting with the new Saudi King, Fahd. Although not hiding their optimism, officials here do not expect the encounter to produce a breakthrough. But reestablishing contacts between the two men, who are known to have forged strong personal ties when Mr. Mubarak was vice-president and the King was crown prince, seems to inspire hope.

Following the meeting, Egypt's Middle East News Agency quoted Mr. Mubarak as saying, ''Despite the period of boycott a strong friendship exists between me and King Fahd.

''I have not been here in four years. . . . In the past I was used to coming here often to see friends and brothers, mainly Fahd.''

Expressing satisfaction with the talks, the President said, ''There was mutual understanding on all subjects.''

Mr. Mubarak's short visit may lay the groundwork for an eventual restoration of relations on a new basis - recognizing Saudi Arabia's assertion of its role as guardian of the Gulf area with its smaller, less powerful states. Sadat's refusal to acknowledge the widening of the Saudi sphere of influence, following Egypt's isolation after the signature of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, has stood as a hurdle to reaching an understanding on future dealings between the two most powerful Arab states.

In part Mubarak's cable of condolences and of congratulations to the new monarch reflected this. The late King was described as a ''dear brother,'' ''an outstanding leader,'' and ''one of the symbols of Arab and Islamic solidarity.''

The one-day visit takes place against a background of Egyptian dismay at what was interpreted here as Saudi discouragement of individual attempts to normalize relations with Egypt.

Following official Saudi statements, the pace of what seemed to be an imminent improvement in relations with Jordan and Morocco in the immediate aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from Sinai six weeks ago slowed down. The statements made the restoration of relations with Egypt conditional on a collective Arab decision for terms for rapprochement.

Part of the disappointment stemmed from the Gulf states' failure to couple their appeal for Egyptian support in halting the Iranian drive to regain territory occupied by Iraq with a formal appreciation of Egypt's assistance to Iraq, backed by all Gulf states. Egypt has supplied Iraq with arms, spare parts, and ammunition worth more than $2.5 billion, part of which was financed by Saudi Arabia.

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