Mubarak speaks of hope for peace

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT HOSNI Mubarak of Egypt said after his first meeting with Ehud Barak that he was prepared to give the new Israeli leader time to make progress towards peace.

Police lined the route to the former royal palace in Alexandria as Mr Barak held the first of a series of meetings with Arab leaders to restore relations strained by the three years in office of Benjamin Netanyahu, his predecessor.

Mr Mubarak told a news conference: "I had great hopes since the Prime Minister took office and we are looking forward, but we have to give him some time to make a reshaping of the situation." Mr Barak said he hoped to bring new momentum to the peace process.

Earlier Amr Moussa, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, said: "There is one issue that must be dealt with: the restoration of trust that was destroyed during Netanyahu's term and there is a problem: the settlements. That is the real obstacle, in our view".

Asked about new Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Mr Barak said: "The new Israeli government has clear guidelines. We are not going to build new settlements and we are not going to dismantle [existing] ones." That position leaves room for disagreement, however, because Israel has in the past claimed that what the Arabs regard as new settlements are merely the expansion of existing ones.

Asked about implementation of the peace-for-security Wye Agreement, signed by Mr Netanyahu with the Palestinians, Mr Barak said Israel would abide by its international agreements. Egypt wants to see Wye fulfilled and the Palestinian issue put at the top of Israel's agenda and not displaced by negotiations with Syria.

Mr Moussa made clear Egypt would not accept the postponement or watering- down of Wye: "If such a request were to be made now, what would be the difference between him [Mr Barak] and Netanyahu? It would be perceived as a continuation of Netan-yahu's policies." Egypt does not intend making any goodwill gestures to Israel until it sees evidence on the ground of a change in its policies. It also wants accelerated discussion of such issues as Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Mr Barak is also to see Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and to go on to see King Abdullah of Jordan. He then starts a visit to the US.

David Levy, Israel's Foreign Minister, tried earlier in the week to lower expectations over the present meetings: "They are intended ... to create an atmosphere of rapprochement and mutual trust."

But Israeli press reports yesterday said Mr Barak wants a peace treaty with Syria and a final-status agreement with the Palestinians within 18 months.

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