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Albright Welcomes Egypt’s Mubarak

June 29, 1999 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Praising Egypt as a strategic partner while urging a friendlier stance toward Israel, the Clinton administration welcomed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday for what top U.S. officials hope will mark a turning point toward renewed Mideast peace talks.

``We are looking forward to getting started,″ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared outside Blair House after a meeting with Mubarak that sets the stage for his talks Thursday with President Clinton.

Mubarak expressed optimism for Israel under Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak, saying the government Barak is forming offers ``the promise of better days for the peoples of Israel and Palestine.″

Mubarak, in accepting an honorary degree from George Washington University, said he remained committed to lasting peace in the Middle East, but ``the road ahead is still long and the obstacles many.″

On one troubled front, Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk found cause for hope. He said Syrian President Hafez Assad had let the United States know through messages and meetings that ``he is keen to engage″ Israel in peace talks.

The administration intends to move into high gear once Barak forms a government in Israel.

``We are all looking forward to some active movement on the peace process,″ Albright said.

At an earlier news conference, Indyk described Egypt as ``our strategic partner in the Middle East.″

``We share a common interest and a common vision for the region,″ the U.S. official said. ``We want to promote together more peace, more prosperity and more stability.″

Even so, there were some signs of disagreement. Indyk said, for instance, the United States would oppose moves to declare Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and he called for an investigation into harsh measures taken by Egyptian police in dealing with disorder last summer.

Also, there are reports that Abu Nidal, whose Fatah Revolutionary Council is suspected in a series of terrorist attacks, has taken refuge in Egypt.

On this, Indyk said ``this is not an issue in our relationship″ and that terrorism in Egypt has ``significantly declined″ with Mubarak’s government doing ``an effective job in difficult circumstances.″

But, Indyk said, the terrorist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad continues to operate both inside Egypt and externally. ``We’re very concerned about the ties that they have with Osama bin Laden,″ Indyk said, referring to the fugitive Saudi millionaire suspected of operating a worldwide terrorist group.

Calling Egypt a pioneer among Arabs in peacemaking with Israel _ they signed a treaty 20 years ago _ Indyk urged Mubarak to take a warmer approach to the Jewish state.

``We do think that it’s important, as the peace process moves forward, which we expect it will in the near future,″ the U.S. official said.

Mubarak said Monday, however, he needed ``a good atmosphere″ to make a visit to Israel or he would be criticized at home and by all the Arabs.

His visit kicks up a renewed U.S. drive for Mideast accords. Barak is expected to come here for talks with Clinton and Albright after he selects a Cabinet _ the deadline is July 9 _ and that could lead to travel to the region by Albright and her senior mediator, Dennis Ross.

In that vein, Indyk said the United States had received a number of ``indicators″ that Syria’s Assad ``is keen to engage with the new government″ in Israel.

``We’ve received messages; we’ve had our own dialogue with President Assad over the past six months,″ Indyk said.

Syrian officials have stressed Syria intends to recover the entire Golan Heights as its price for peace. The strategic enclave was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War.

The Clinton administration is determined to prod Israel and the Arabs into negotiations on three fronts: the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese. It is also urging Israel to give up land for assurances of peace from the Arabs.