Politics & Government

At White House, Mubarak urges speeding up Mideast peace talks

President Barack Obama meets with Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, left, at the White House.
President Barack Obama meets with Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, left, at the White House. Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

WASHINGTON — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak used a newfound welcome mat Tuesday at the White House to urge the United States to accelerate Mideast peace talks, skipping past temporary steps that he said have led nowhere and moving instead to a final negotiation about the status of Jerusalem, the status of refugees and borders.

Mubarak said that Obama promised to roll out a specific U.S. peace plan in the next several weeks, in time for a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York in late September.

Obama's aides stopped short of promising such a specific proposal from the United States, but Obama did laud recent signs of progress between Israel and Palestinians and recommitted his administration to an aggressive role in brokering a peace deal.

"There has been movement in the right direction," Obama said, with Mubarak seated beside him in the Oval Office.

"My hope is that we are going to see not just movement from the Israelis but also from the Palestinians around issues of incitement and security, from Arab states that show their willingness to engage Israel."

Obama was responding to Israel's refusal Tuesday to allow new settlement construction in the parts of the West Bank that it has occupied, a potential concession to the U.S. demand for a halt to such construction as a key step toward peace talks.

He also noted that the Palestinian Authority's security forces have been "greatly improved ... in a way that has inspired not just confidence among the Israeli people but also among the Palestinian people."

All of it, he said, "is creating a climate in which it's possible for us to see some positive steps and hopefully negotiate towards a final resolution of these long-standing issues."

Mubarak urged a quick move to those "final resolution" talks.

"We cannot afford wasting more time, because violence will increase, and violence has increased. The level of violence is now much more than it was 10 years ago," he said at the White House.

"I have contacted the Israelis, and they said perhaps you can talk about a temporary solution or perhaps the final status. But I told them, no, forget about the temporary solution and forget about temporary borders. That's why I came today to talk to President Obama and to see that if we move forward on this issue, it will give more hope and more confidence to the people about this issue."

Mubarak's spokesman said after the meeting that the United States hoped to unveil a new Mideast peace plan next month.

"Today, Mr. Obama said that hopefully ... the peace blueprint should be there in the course of next month, in September," Mubarak spokesman Soliman Awaad said.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the U.N. General Assembly would be "an important opportunity to continue to make progress on comprehensive Middle East peace." However, he downplayed talk of a new U.S. proposal being unveiled there. "I do not know of any specific plan that the United States will present at that time," he said.

The high-profile visit — Mubarak's first to the White House in five years and his third meeting with Obama in less than three months — marked a return to a key role for him after strained relations during the President George W. Bush years over the Iraq war and Bush criticisms of human rights violations and lack of democracy in Egypt.

As about 200 people protested against Mubarak across from the White House, Obama did raise the subject of human rights abuses with him, according to aides to both men. However, Awaad said that the tone was different coming from Obama than from Bush. Regardless, Awaad cautioned against expecting any quick response from Egypt.

"Egypt has achieved a lot when it comes to political, economic and social reform," Awaad said afterward. "The problem is that many people talk about reform as if it were something that could happen overnight. ... Moving too fast might result in giving control to radicals."


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