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Bush, Mubarak to Meet in March - 2002-02-18


Egyptian officials say next month's scheduled meeting in Washington between President Mubarak and President Bush has special significance because it is the first between the two leaders since the September 11 attacks. Though the meeting is several weeks away, political analysts in Cairo say they already know what issues will concern Mr. Mubarak most: the Israel-Palestinian conflict and U.S. policy toward Iraq.

Abdel Moneim Said is the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He says President Mubarak and Mr. Bush will have a well-defined agenda of issues to discuss. "Number one on the agenda [is] the Israeli-Palestinian problem, how to [bring] the violence to an end," he said. "After that you have the issue of Iraq. After that you have a long list of bilateral issues regarding the free-trade area between the U.S. and Egypt and how to encourage American investment in the Middle East."

The head of the political science department at Cairo University, Hassan Nafae, acknowledges the two presidents will discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he believes that for President Mubarak, the issue of Iraq could overshadow all other subjects. "I do believe it might be one of the most important issues that will be discussed," he said. "I don't, personally, know whether the American administration has a true assessment of the impact of a strike against Iraq on the economic situation in Egypt and also on stability in the region."

Iraqi newspapers on Monday said the United States is launching a psychological war against Iraq in preparation for military strikes on the country.

President Bush has warned Iraq will face unspecified consequences if it continues to refuse to allow United Nation's weapons inspectors to return to the country. He also described Iraq last month as being part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea.

Senior U.S. officials have said President Bush has not decided whether to take military action against Iraq.

Mohammad Kamal is a political science professor at Cairo University. He believes Mr. Mubarak's top priority will be to clearly define Egypt's position regarding a possible military strike against Iraq. "I think the Egyptian point of view is we are with the U.S. is calling for a return of the international inspectors but Egypt is not supportive of military action against Iraq and the public opinion in Egypt and in the Arab world at large is against that," he said. "The bottom line is I don't think Egypt is going to support or going to participate in an American military effort against Iraq."

Mr. Mubarak will be meeting with President Bush just prior to a scheduled visit to the region in mid-March by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Abdullah el Ashaal is an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at several universities in Cairo. He says Mr. Mubarak's meeting with President Bush will not undermine the importance of Mr. Cheney's visit later in the month. "Mr. Cheney is coming for the whole region and Mr. Mubarak is going mainly to Mr. Bush so both of them have different destinations and different agendas," said Abdullah el Ashaal.

President Bush has said Mr. Cheney's visit will only be to discuss the U.S. led war against terrorism, not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, political analysts in Cairo say the vice president may find one issue cannot be discussed without discussing the other.