Mubarak Says Syrian President Would Meet With Enemy Arafat
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said today that President Hafez Assad is ready to meet with Yasser Arafat to try to end one of the most bitter feuds in the Arab world.
″He has no good relations with Yasser Arafat, yet he will welcome Arafat if he comes here, he’s not against that,″ Mubarak told reporters in an interview at the guest palace after talks with Assad the day before.
Mubarak met again with Assad this morning, then returned home to Cairo, the Egyptian Middle East News Agency said.
Mubarak, the first Egyptian head of state to visit Damascus in more than 12 years, also said his country wanted to help end the dispute between Syria and Iraq, but that many differences remained in the way.
In another sign of rapprochement among bitter Arab rivals, Iraq’s foreign minister said today that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq would invite Assad to attend a proposed Arab League summit in Baghdad.
Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz told a news conference in Baghdad that Saddam would dispatch personal envoys with invitations to Assad and other Arab leaders next week, even though no date has been fixed yet for the summit.
Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has been pushing for the Arab League summit to convene before the U.S.-Soviet summit on May 30.
Arafat has called for the emergency meeting to discuss Arab concerns about the mass emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel and western accusations that Iraq is developing mass destruction weapons that jeopardize Middle East security.
There have been reports that Arafat may visit Damascus soon to discuss the strained relations between Syria and the PLO.
Arafat and Assad fell out in 1983 when a Syrian-backed mutiny by radical groups drove Arafat’s PLO forces out of northern Lebanon.
″As I spoke with President Assad yesterday about Yasser Arafat, he’s ready to welcome Arafat whenever he comes here to Damascus,″ Mubarak said.
″I heard that he is planning to come to Damascus. I would be very pleased if he would come and sit with President Assad and discuss all these things,″ he said, referring to peace efforts in the Middle East.
Asked whether he thought Assad would participate in a peace process in concert with Egypt, Mubarak said:
″President Assad will join the peace process when he feels really that the process is moving forward toward a comprehensive solution.
″The crux of the whole problem is the Palestinian problem. If there is an active role for the Palestinians, President Hafez Assad will never miss the train.″
Assad is Israel’s most formidable enemy, and he has pledged to build up his armed forces until they reach ″strategic parity″ with Israel’s.
Syria’s involvement in any peace process would be necessary for durable peace in the region.
Another Arab military giant, Iraq, has been at odds with Syria for years and is ruled by a rival wing of the Arab Baath Socialist Party.
Arab diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mubarak brought a ″paper″ to Damascus suggesting a meeting of the Syrian and Iraqi foreign ministers in Cairo, under the auspices of the Egyptians.
Asked about this paper, Mubarak said ″we didn’t plan for that at all.″ He did not elaborate on that point but added:
″We are for solving the problem between the two fronts. We had a lot of discussion yesterday but still there are so many points which need efforts, not only from Egypt, but from all the friends in the whole region so as to narrow the gap between Syria and Iraq.″
Cairo and Damascus resumed diplomatic ties in December after a 12-year break. Syria broke relations with Egypt shortly after then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem in November 1977. Sixteen other Arab countries also broke relations to protest against Egypt’s peace with Israel.