Mubarak warns time running out for US in Mideast
Cairo — If the United States is unable to remove foreign troops from Lebanon soon, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says, it will be a ''disaster'' for the Middle East and ''a black spot'' on US standing in this part of the world.
The Egyptian president, whose populous, militarily important country signed the Camp David peace accords with Israel in 1979, argues that time is of the essence in settling the Lebanon problem and working out self-rule for Palestinians. He sees Israel as having designs on southern Lebanon and criticizes Syria for abetting Israel's presence there.
Mr. Mubarak became president in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. He visits Washington this week to meet with President Reagan. In an interview here before leaving, he made the following additional points:
* Egypt is committed to peace with Israel. Although Egypt wants closer ties with the Arab bloc, it sees no urgent need for reestablishment of full diplomatic relations.
* Egypt supports the formation of a Palestinian-Jordanian delegation to negotiate with Israel over the future of the West Bank and Gaza, and believes if such a delegation can be formed, Washington will pressure Israel to freeze the present number of settlements in the occupied territories.
* Egypt is still willing, under certain circumstances, to allow the US Rapid Deployment Force (USRDF) to use its soil in an emergency.
* Although Egypt is domestically secure, the ''state of emergency'' since Sadat's death will be continued and fundamentalist Muslim groups will not be allowed to reorganize.
Would you consider that America's success in removing foreign forces from Lebanon sometime soon would be an indication that America can achieve an overall peace in the Middle East and self-rule for the Palestinians?
It would be a good step. If they are unable to do it, it will be a disaster. It will be a mark against the United States - that they are not capable of solving even such a problem. It would be a black spot. The United States has other friends in the area, not just Israel. If they are not going to succeed in solving the problem of Lebanon, I think the situation will be very grave.
Do you think Syria is complicating matters in Lebanon?
The Israeli newspapers recently said that (Secretary of State) George Shultz met with Jewish leaders in the United States and told them there is a gentleman's agreement between Israel and Syria to stay in Lebanon, and Lebanon will be divided as it is now. I can't imagine how, when the invasion of Lebanon started, the Israeli forces could have advanced as far as they did before the Syrians began fighting. . . . There is a big question mark over the position of Syria in Lebanon.
It's Egypt's opinion that the PLO should recognize Israel in order to advance the peace process along the lines of the Sept. 1 Reagan plan. But the PLO so far has been incapable of taking this kind of decisive step. Should other representatives, meaning West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, be sought as an alternative to the PLO in the peace process?
According to the Rabat summit, the PLO is the only representative of the Palestinians. So we can't say there can be any other. But when we say the PLO should recognize the existence of Israel, we mean that the only card they have is this one, and they shouldn't keep it in their pocket until the time comes when it is useless. When you have such a card you should use it at the proper time to get the maximum benefit.
And now is the proper time?
I think from my point of view that the United States will never start a dialogue with the Palestinians as long as the PLO does not recognize Israel. So we can't make any progress. If the Palestinians could recognize Israel, I think the United States should start, as it has promised, a dialogue with the Palestinians in the context of solving this problem.
If the PLO continues to be unable to make this move, do you think Jordan should continue to await PLO approval before entering negotiations with Israel?
The negotiations will not start, as far as I know, unless there is coordination between the Palestinians and King Hussein. The quicker they do this, the better for the future of the Palestinians. We are urging King Hussein and the Palestinians to conclude their negotiations so as to start negotiations (with Israel). Otherwise the time is passing very quickly.
Would you consider PLO representation as part of the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation essential?
I am leaving it to King Hussein and the Palestinians to decide the practical solution: to have some kind of Palestinians, under the PLO title or not under the PLO title, to coordinate with each other, and to come out with a delegation which could sit at the table and start negotiations.
Is there enough American pressure at present to cause Israel to freeze settlement building on the West Bank?
I heard there is a promise that, if the Jordanians and Palestinians can agree to a combined delegation, the United States will support a freezing of settlements. I hope that is true.
What do you think other Arab states should do to prove they really want to reestablish relations with Egypt, as many of them frequently say?
I am leaving this to them. I will tell you this, Egypt is an Arab country. Egypt's doors are open for any country to come anytime . . . . But I don't want to put any country in a critical situation in the Arab world. When I contact any Arab country, I am not asking to start diplomatic relations. That is the final phase. We have all these contacts anyway, so lack of diplomatic relations does not bother me.
Since you became president there seems to be much less talk about Egyptian-American military cooperation. Operation Bright Star 1982 was canceled. We wonder if Egypt remains committed to ''facilities,'' to the Ras Banas base that was offered to the US under President Sadat?
We are committed to the facilities, exactly as mentioned in the letter sent by President Sadat to the US administration. But there is a difference between facilities and having bases constantly in this country. We will never accept, under any circumstances, for any country to have bases in this country. Facilities, when there is a danger in any Arab or Islamic country, yes - and this country must ask for help. There will be facilities just in an emergency case for these countries. As long as there is no danger, no demands from these countries, we can give no facilities.
Recently the ''state of emergency'' was renewed. Should this be taken as a sign of the continued existence of the antigovernment extremist groups that assassinated your predecessor? Do you think the tide of Muslim fundamentalism has receded?
It's a trend all over the world, not only in Egypt. As for martial law: Since it was approved by the People's Assembly, not a single article of it has been used to date. Those who were captured for the case which is now before the court (approximately 300 Muslim fundamentalists are being tried for plotting to overthrow the government) were captured not on the basis of martial law but according to normal law.
If you are not using martial law, why do you have to have it?
We should keep it for an emergency case. It gives you much more flexibility. We have full control of the extremists here, the fundamentalists. I have been asked this question frequently. The problem is that foreigners sometimes read newspapers in London or the United States and have an exaggerated view of what is going on, which is not true. Fundamentalists are in Saudi Arabia, in Oman, in the Gulf, in Damascus, in Lebanon, in the United States, in France, Italy, the Far East.
In Egypt, they tried to carry out a coup after the assassination of President Sadat. Do you think they are less dangerous now, that they wouldn't try to do the same thing again?
Whenever they can manage to be active, they will be very eager, of course. The normal laws, however, can manage it. We are in full control.
Would you expect more people held in detention will be freed soon? Are you going to allow organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the political system again?
No. Keep it for the future to see what is going to happen. I can't foretell. You can read the history of these people, even before the (Egyptian) revolution, and have the answer to this question.
On democracy in Egypt, Mubarak said, ''When I think of Egypt having the same democracy and freedom as the United States, I think there should be the same basis, the same conditions.
''The US has its agricultural and industrial base. Illiteracy is very low. In Egypt, illiteracy is about 70 percent. Could you allow wide freedom in a country in which 70 percent are illiterate? Is it advisable? There should have been a long-term plan for this. When we have many more people educated, then there will be a base for democracy in this country.
''But now, anybody could say something and the people would believe him. It may be dangerous and the people will not feel the danger until it comes near.''