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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Egypt Says U.S. Vows Not to Attack Iraq

November 29, 2001|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said Wednesday that his government--the closest U.S. ally in the Arab world--has received an "understanding" that the Bush administration will not use military force against Iraq or any other Arab government accused of harboring terrorists.

Describing Egypt as a staunch member of the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, Maher warned, "If we want to keep this consensus . . . we should not resort, after Afghanistan, to military means."

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, Maher conceded that some administration officials and some nongovernmental foreign policy specialists are urging President Bush to expand the war on terrorism to Iraq and perhaps other countries once the Taliban's hold on Afghanistan has been broken.

"It is our understanding that this will not happen," Maher said.

Although the clear implication was that Maher, who confers regularly with top Bush administration officials, had obtained his understanding from the highest level of the U.S. government, he would not elaborate when asked to do so.

Nevertheless, Maher said the U.S. government and its allies would pay a high price for using military force against governments that are not directly implicated in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

If the United States carried the war beyond Afghanistan, he said, it would "cause serious internal problems for friends of the United States" in the Middle East. He said there are nonmilitary means, such as economic sanctions, that can be used against countries that shelter terrorists.

Maher, Egypt's ambassador to the United States for almost a decade before his appointment as foreign minister earlier this year, also urged Bush and Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to use restraint in applying extraordinary methods against terrorist suspects in the United States.

He said the administration "should be very careful in applying these [new counter-terrorism] laws not to tarnish its image as a country that believes in democracy and diversity."

It was an extraordinary reversal of roles for the United States and Egypt. In the past, U.S. officials have rebuked Egypt for human rights violations, especially over Cairo's sometimes draconian crackdown on domestic terrorist organizations.

For years, Egypt waged its own war on terrorism "without the support of our closest friends," Maher said. "Not only did they not support us, but their contribution was criticism."

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