Mideast peace prospects hinge on enlarged US role, top Egyptian says

Egypt would like to change America's foreign-policy agenda. In the view of Butros Ghali, a close adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Mideast probably ranks only No. 5 on America's list of regional priorities.

If the United States can be enticed into resuming a more active role in the region, then Egypt and Jordan's efforts to launch a new Mideast peace initiative will succeed, says Mr. Ghali, Egypt's minister of state for foreign affairs.

``In the Arab world, there is a new trend in favor of moderation. But the disadvantage now is that the Americans are less interested,'' Ghali said in an interview this week.

``Even within the Middle East are subsets. Lebanon and the Iraq-Iran war come before the Palestinian issue. One of the problems we have is how we can upgrade the Palestinian problem in the eyes of the Americans.''

The Egyptians have long believed that only the Americans can supply the leverage necessary to bring Israel to the bargaining table. Without American pressure, the Egyptians fear, Israel will continue to solidify its hold on the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.

A momentum for peace must be created, Ghali says. ``If in the next six to 12 months there should be a de facto annexation of the West Bank, then there will be no possibility of any new peace process.''

President Mubarak will be seeking both increased American aid for his nation and a more active American role in the region when he comes to Washington in March. President Mubarak's visit comes against a backdrop of several Jordanian and Egyptian moves toward mounting a new peace effort.

Jordan's King Hussein has been actively wooing Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat to join him in seeking a negotiated settlement with Israel. Mubarak has supported that effort. Last week, Mubarak and Hussein held an unannounced meeting at the Jordanian port of Aqaba, shortly after moderate Fahd Kawasmeh was assassinated in Amman.

Mubarak has also been cautiously moving toward warming the cold peace between Egypt and Israel. The two nations are scheduled to resume talks this month on Taba, a disputed slice of the Sinai, and Mubarak has indicated there is the possibility of a summit at some point between him and Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

However, Egypt still seeks signs from Mr. Peres that his government is willing to change its policies in Lebanon and the West Bank before real progress can be made in restoring relations between the two states, Ghali says. ``What the new government has done so far on the West Bank is peanuts. The situation there is still deteriorating. And the Americans indicated to us the Israelis would pull out of Lebanon by the end of 1982. Here it is the start of 1985, and the Israelis are still there and may continue to be there another one or two years.''

Taba, in contrast to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and the West Bank, ``is a marginal issue,'' Ghali says. Settling the Taba dispute will help relations between Egypt and Israel ``but it is not enough.''

Should the Israelis respond to Egyptian and Jordanian efforts to restart the peace process, he says, a momentum would be started ``that would get the moderates talking to each other again.''

``The last four years have seen the defeat of the moderates. We failed to create a moderate front, we failed to talk to the Israeli moderates and so we saw the success of the extremists.''

The challenge now is to the PLO to join in the peace process, according to Ghali.

``We tell them to take a step-by-step approach. You don't discuss the sex of the angel while the Turks are surrounding Constantinople. Priority No. 1 is stopping the creeping annexation of the West Bank. If they [the PLO] insist on slogans such as `kick out the Jews,' this is a kind of escapism and they can continue doing it for the next 30 years, with no results.''

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