Egypt's Mubarak to talk Mideast peace with Obama

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in Washington for the first time in five years, is expected to press the stance of Arab governments in the Middle East peace process when he meets with President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Mubarak, 81, met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday.

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P.J. Crowley, assistant secretary of State for public affairs, told reporters at Monday's briefing that Clinton and Mubarak met for an hour, with the topics ranging from Iraq to Darfur.

"It was a wide-ranging discussion befitting the strategic partnership between Egypt and the United States," Crowley said. "They obviously compared notes on the status of efforts by the United States and others to resume negotiation between Israel and Palestine as part of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East."

In an interview published Monday by Cairo daily al-Ahram, Mubarak made clear that he will be pushing the Arab point of view on Middle East peace at a point when the Israelis have asserted their right to natural settlement growth and the Obama administration, smarting from the tension with Israel, has called on Arab states to make a greater effort in the process.

"I explained to President Obama in Cairo that the Arab initiative offers the recognition of Israel and normalization of ties with it after, and not before, a just and lasting peace is achieved," Mubarak said, referring to the Saudi-backed 2002 initiative that asks for a return to 1967 borders, a solution to the Palestinian refugee question and a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital in return for Arab states normalizing relations with Israel.

Mubarak has shunned the idea that Arab states could further the peace process by first making overtures to Israel.

Mubarak is also expected to stress his opposition to any strike on Iran, arguing that the regime in Tehran is best dealt with from inside Iran. Iran has mostly brushed off the Obama administration's attempts at outreach, and the issue of negotiation versus further efforts such as sanctions against the Islamic Republic — which claims its nuclear program is just for energy purposes — will be up for discussion at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh a month from now.

As the aging ruler visits, succession is also on the minds of political observers. Mubarak has apparently been grooming his younger son, Gamal, to take the reins of power; Gamal Mubarak was named general secretary of the policy committee of the ruling National Democratic Party by his father in 2002, and the president's Cabinet has since been stacked with NDP ministers from Gamal's committee.

Speculation about Mubarak's health has abounded for years, with the president collapsing during a live televised speech to parliament in 2003 in what state television called a "health crisis." Since then, canceled meetings with dignitaries have consistently ignited new rumors. The next presidential election in the single-party-dominant state will be in 2011, but one could be called earlier if for some reason Mubarak doesn't complete his term. Mubarak assumed the presidency after President Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981.

Gamal Mubarak, who earned an MBA at the American University in Cairo, is an honorary Rotarian and, in an interview published this year, pegged his heroes as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

When asked in a Middle East Quarterly interview which American president best understood the Middle East crisis, Gamal Mubarak reached back to the beginning of his father's term.

"The Egyptians naturally remember the role played by President Carter; he is the one who helped Sadat and the Israelis prepare the Camp David agreements," Gamal Mubarak said. "The last American president who really got involved in this issue is Bill Clinton. He did not hesitate to put his prestige at stake; he took great risks to try to reach an agreement. We got very close to a solution. His efforts were not in vain."