JERUSALEM (Feb. 21)
Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens had a longer-than-scheduled meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo Monday night.
By all accounts, their 75-minute conversation, much of it without the presence of their respective aides, resulted in no breakthroughs in the Middle East peace process.
But it appeared to herald an improvement in the sorely strained Israeli-Egyptian relations.
Arens himself took pains to lower the level of expectations.
He told reporters it would be unrealistic to expect substantive breakthroughs at one meeting. He hoped, however, that this meeting would be the first of many others in the future.
Arens is the first high-ranking Likud minister ever to be received by Mubarak, which in itself made their meeting something of a precedent.
But many consider that the highlight of the Israeli foreign minister’s visit to Cairo will occur Wednesday morning, when he meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
The Soviet statesman is on the third leg of a diplomatic swing around the Middle East, and it is he who reportedly suggested the get-together with Arens.
Many observers have read implications into his selection of Cairo as the venue.
The Egyptian capital is evocative of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel and the Camp David accords that led up to it.
Moscow heretofore has officially viewed both as separate arrangements that did nothing to advance a comprehensive Middle East peace.
But if the Soviets may now be willing to acknowledge a broader role for Camp David, Shevardnadze is expected to press Arens on the same issues that Mubarak stressed.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, himself on a three-day visit to Paris, said before his departure Monday that Arens’ meetings in Cairo were “highly important.”
But neither the prime minister nor his foreign minister seems prepared to give an inch on the scenarios favored by Egypt and the Soviet Union.
SHAMIR FIRM ON NO PLO ROLE
They will not agree to an international conference under U.N. auspices. And as Shamir made abundantly clear in a speech in Jerusalem Monday night, Israel “will not deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization” under any conceivable circumstances.
According to Shamir, “its very essence is an obstacle to peace.”
While Mubarak reportedly pressed for the PLO’s inclusion in the peace process, citing very significant changes in its policies lately, Egyptian sources suggested unofficially that arrangements more to Israel’s liking could be made.
They said there need not be a separate PLO delegation to peace talks. The Palestinians could be incorporated into a Jordanian or all-Arab delegation, provided the PLO selects or approves the Palestinian representatives.
Shevardnadze was scheduled to meet with PLO chief Yasir Arafat in Cairo Wednesday night, by which time Arens will be back in Jerusalem.
Mubarak, for his part, left for Tokyo on Tuesday to attend the funeral of Japanese Emper or Hirohito on Feb. 24.
Arens, meanwhile, told reporters that a “chemistry” had developed between Mubarak and himself.
During a photo opportunity, the Egyptian president joked about Arens’ reputation as a “great hawk.” Laughing, he said, “I am also a hawk.”