'No miracles' at Cairo summit

EGYPT'S President, Hosni Mubarak, yesterday cautiously welcomed steps towards peace taken by the new Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, but he stressed that more needed to be done by Israel to halt settlements.

In a statement at the end of the first Egyptian-Israeli summit for six years, Mr Mubarak suggested the Arab side in the peace talks would await further positive steps from Israel before agreeing to make concessions, particularly on lifting the Arab trade boycott.

Mr Mubarak side-stepped questions on whether he would visit Jerusalem following the Cairo summit. He said Mr Rabin had asked him to go and, in principle, his response had been 'positive'. But Mr Mubarak implied that not enough had yet been offered by Mr Rabin to make such a trip worthwhile.

Mr Mubarak said: 'Mr Rabin invited me to Israel. But, frankly speaking, I do not need an invitation to go to Israel. Whenever I find it convenient to I will go to

Israel.' Mr Mubarak said nobody was 'expecting miracles'. The new Israeli government's promise to stop some settlements was a 'step on the right track. We appreciate it.' But, he added, 'we need much more'.

Asked about ending the Arab trade boycott, Mr Mubarak referred to his statement last year when he said he would propose the lifting of the boycott if all Israeli settlement were halted. 'Regarding the trade boycott we cannot change our position,' he said.

Mr Mubarak said Egypt would not take a position on whether the United States should now release to Israel dollars 10bn ( pounds 5.3bn) in loan guarantees, saying this was a matter between Israel and the US. Yesterday the US Secretary of State, James Baker, left Israel for a tour of Arab countries, strongly hinting that the housing loans would be released soon. He is expected to arrive in Cairo today.

The summit yesterday, held in one of the presidential palaces, al- Quba, came amid new hope for the Middle East peace process, stemming from the election of a Labour government in Israel last month. Mr Rabin has said repeatedly that he wants to see Palestinian autonomy within six to nine months, and is prepared to halt some settlements in the occupied territories.

Despite positive remarks from both sides, however, there was little evidence that Mr Rabin's arrival in Cairo had stirred any excitement or expectations. En route to the meeting place, Mr Rabin was greeted by only one banner, saying 'Welcome to the guest of President Mubarak'. Mr Mubarak invited Mr Rabin to talks in Cairo after the Israeli Prime Minister's inaugural address to the Knesset in which he declared his commitment to peace and offered to travel to Arab capitals for talks.

The Cairo summit had raised hopes that Mr Rabin would press Egypt - the only Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel - to persuade other Arab leaders that concessions could now be made. Egypt, which has close relations with the West, particularly since its anti-Iraq stance in the Gulf War, is keen to be seen as a mediator in the peace process. However, with a meeting of Arab heads of government planned for Friday in Damascus, it was apparent yesterday that neither Mr Mubarak nor Mr Rabin wished to be seen to be attempting to pre-empt or influence positions taken by Arabs directly involved in the peace talks, particularly the Syrians.

The summit had also raised expectations that agreement might be reached to move the Middle East peace talks to Cairo from Rome, where the next round is to take place. Israel is keen to hold the talks in the region, but Arab countries have always argued against this on the grounds that it would grant a symbolic recognition of Israel. Yesterday both Mr Rabin and Mr Mubarak said they had no objections to the talks being held in Cairo, but this could not happen in the near future.

Despite carefully-worded statements on both sides, Mr Rabin took the opportunity yesterday to remind the world that the peace treaty signed with Egypt in 1979, under the terms of the Camp David accords, was a precedent that other Arab countries could follow.

TUNIS - The PLO leadership yesterday renewed a call for a halt to all settlements in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, as a precondition for Middle East peace, AFP reports.

The information chief, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said that Mr Rabin's offer to impose a partial freeze, affecting settlements not vital to security, was an 'insufficient step.'