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Mubarak Confident of Bargaining Position as He Prepares for Talks With Reagan

March 09, 1985|DAVID LAMB | Times Staff Writer

CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak will arrive in Washington today for an official five-day visit to seek more economic assistance to Egypt and U.S. support for his Mideast peace proposal.

Mubarak, who will meet with President Reagan on Tuesday, believes he is in an excellent bargaining position. He has put relations with Israel back on firmer footing, made economic reforms at home and taken the lead in an emerging coalition of moderate Arab states seeking a peace settlement.

The meeting will be Mubarak's fifth with Reagan since he succeeded the assassinated Anwar Sadat as president in October, 1981, and Egyptian authorities are attaching extraordinary importance to it, both economically and politically. Rightly or wrongly, they believe that the Reagan Administration will be less susceptible to Israeli pressure in its second term and therefore more willing to strike a deal acceptable to the Arabs.

Holds Bargaining Chip

One of Mubarak's best bargaining chips is his ambassador to Tel Aviv, who was withdrawn in September, 1982, after the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militiamen at two refugee camps in Beirut. Israel wants the envoy returned and Mubarak, expecting U.S. congressional leaders to press him on the matter, appears prepared to respond favorably if he gains the concessions he wants.

Mubarak might make the move, Western diplomats said, if Israel agrees to turn the issue of Taba--a tiny Israeli-occupied chunk of land on the coast of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula--over to international arbitration, a move that Western and Egyptian officials believe would end in a victory for Egypt. With Israel having started to withdraw from Lebanon, Mubarak has indicated that other obstacles to the return of his ambassador are surmountable.

The image that Mubarak has cultivated for his Washington trip is one of moderation. He accepts the depth of the United States' commitment to Israel but is understood to believe that the recent Palestinian-Jordanian agreement represents "a golden opportunity for peace" that Washington can endorse without betraying Israel.

In the accord, King Hussein of Jordan and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, agreed to a vaguely worded "framework" in which a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation would seek a settlement under the auspices of U.N. resolutions. The document was drafted in large part by Mubarak's closest political adviser, Osama Baz.

Peace Efforts Urged

Mubarak will urge Reagan to reactivate the peace process by starting a dialogue--though not negotiations--with the joint delegation. Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel has cautiously approved Mubarak's general approach and has expressed willingness for direct talks with Jordan and non-PLO Palestinians. But he wants Israel to be included in any dialogue that the Administration might initiate.

"I did not say I will be able to persuade the Americans to start the dialogue," Mubarak told reporters Wednesday after meeting Hussein, "but . . . I will tell them that after this positive step we have taken, it is imperative that the United States is a direct partner in the peace process.

American diplomats say that, for public consumption in Egypt, it is essential that Mubarak has something to show for his trip and does not leave Washington empty-handed. At least, they say, it seems certain that Mubarak will win increased military and economic assistance.

Mubarak is asking for lower interest rates on U.S. arms sales to Egypt and for about $1 billion more in aid. Washington currently gives Egypt about $1 billion a year in economic assistance and $1.2 billion in military aid, making it the largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.

The Egyptian president's trip started in Paris on Friday where he met President Francois Mitterrand. It was the 10th meeting between the two leaders since 1981. Mubarak will leave Washington on Wednesday and will stop in London for talks with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher before returning to Cairo on March 16.

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