Christopher Meets with Mubarak, Warns Peace Process Could Unravel

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday and warned afterward that the Middle East peace process could “quickly deteriorate” if progress does not come soon in Israeli-Arab negotiations.

Christopher arrived in Egypt during the first stop of a Middle East tour designed to break the impasse in the peace process. He and Mubarak met for two hours in a presidential palace overlooking Alexandria harbor.

After the meeting, Christopher told reporters that last week’s fighting in southern Lebanon should serve as a warning of what might happen if the peace talks do not succeed.

“We both agreed that recent events can serve as a reminder to all parties that the Arab-Israeli negotiations can quickly deteriorate if we do not take this moment for peacemaking.”

Commenting on his informal deadline that the 21-month-old peace talks must show some marked progress by the end of this year, Christopher said, “Decision time is rapidly approaching.”

The secretary also said the Clinton administration is “prepared to stay the course” as a full partner in the talks.

Mubarak expressed similar sentiments, saying that the negotiations should not stop, “because peace is so precious.”

COULD EXTEND HIS TRIP

Hours before the Christopher-Mubarak meeting, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa, presumably to discuss talking points that would be put to Christopher.

Arafat was expected to meet again with Moussa, or perhaps Mubarak, to be briefed on the American secretary’s responses.

Christopher’s reputation has been strengthened in the region after his successful brokerage of the cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon.

After the meeting with Mubarak, Christopher flew on to Cairo. He was due to arrive in Syria on Tuesday, before flying to Israel the same day.

On Wednesday, the secretary is expected to visit Jordan and return to Syria. He is scheduled to go back to Israel the following day.

Christopher is expected to concentrate his efforts on breaking the deadlock in the negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Damascus has been demanding an Israeli commitment to full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Israel wants a Syrian commitment to full-fledged peace before discussing how much territory it would agree to return.

Both U.S. and Israeli officials believe that Syria’s consent to press the Iranian-backed Hezbollah to refrain from firing Katyusha rockets at northern Israel signals a cooperation that could be used to advance the peace talks.

With some Israeli officials reportedly voicing interest in the possibility of shuttle diplomacy between Damascus and Jerusalem, Christopher has apparently left open the option of staying in the region beyond his scheduled departure Thursday.

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