Mubarak Abstains

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CAIRO: Despite repeated phone calls from President Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will not attend a Middle East summit scheduled to begin later this week. Although the State Department minimized Mubarak's refusal to appear, a cooling in relations with Egypt could spell more trouble for the peace talks, as well as herald a difficult period for U.S. relations in the Middle East. "If Mubarak had gone to Washington, it would have implied a certain confidence in the peace talks," says TIME's Scot MacLeod. "But his refusal means he is concerned a summit that makes no substantial concessions for the Palestinians will give the status quo a kind of legitimacy. If Arafat sits down with Netanyahu, in Mubarak's view, the Palestinian leader will ease condemnation of Israeli government actions at a time when international opinion leans against the Israelis. Mubarak believes Arafat shouldn't lower the temperature without getting something in return." Mubarak's refusal to take part in talks marks a major disappointment for the U.S., since it leave out a country that has been the main Arab partner of the U.S. in the turbulent Middle East. "This is a powerful snub that betrays a lack of confidence and trust in Clinton's plans," says MacLeod. "In the long term, perceived U.S. bias toward Israel further undermines the internal position of pro-American Arab regimes under threat from Islamic militants." Clinton may be hoping for rapprochement around the table in Washington, but without Mubarak, he may not get it. -->