- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

Arab leaders have snubbed President Clinton and told him to stay home while they invited America's nemesis, Saddam Hussein, to Cairo to sit with them for the first time since the Gulf war.

Mr. Clinton yesterday downplayed the refusal by Egypt to host him and leaders of Israel and the Palestinians in an attempt to end two weeks of violence.

Mr. Clinton sought the summit, but Egypt said it might conflict with the meeting of Arab leaders slated for Oct. 20 and 21.

"I wouldn't overread the fact that there won't be a big meeting imminently in Egypt," said Mr. Clinton, adding that both Israel and the Palestinians remained committed to the peace process.

However, analysts said that inviting Iraq, which has called for attacks on Israel and continues to violate U.N. sanctions and resolutions, could tilt the Arab leaders meeting in support of the Palestinians' new intifada, in which more than 90 have been killed since Sept. 28.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met unexpectedly with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday, but a truce remained elusive amid new outbreaks of violence.

The fiercest battle erupted near the village of Kufr Kalil, just south of the West Bank town of Nablus, as dozens of buses and cars carrying mourners to the funeral of American-born Jewish settler Hillel Lieberman passed by.

As four helicopter gunships hovered above, Israeli troops fired tank machine guns toward the village where gunmen wove in and out of narrow alleys.

The Cairo Arab summit later this month will include Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other Arab nations that have called for attacks

The meeting, originally scheduled for January, was moved up to this month in response to the fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But many fear the meeting could harden Palestinian resolve and make compromise with Israel more difficult.

"It's hard to see how this is a helpful step it could stiffen [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat," said David Makovsky, senior analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

And the leading pro-American nations such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia "will not risk their relationship with the United States for Arafat," said another analyst. "They don't trust Arafat."

Due to the mounting death toll, Arab leaders have "been feeling the heat" from their own people and will likely criticize Israel and support the Palestinians, he said.

But unless there is an escalation of violence before then, the Arab summit will show strong support for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, said the analyst, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A Palestinian spokesman in Washington said yesterday Mr. Clinton would be welcome in the West Bank and Gaza but that certain conditions need to be met first.

"We would welcome President Clinton's visit to the Palestinian territories to continue his efforts towards reaching a lasting peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis," said Said Hamad, deputy chief representative in Washington of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

"But I think the time is not really appropriate for holding a four-way [Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians and Americans] meeting unless the Israelis pull out their troops from positions that are close to the Palestinian territory and lift the siege on Palestinian cities of the West Bank and Gaza and withdraw their forces," said Mr. Hamad in an interview.

Mr. Hamad also raised a new demand, calling on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak "to apologize for all those threatening deadlines." He was referring to ultimatums beginning last weekend in which Mr. Barak warned of harsh measures unless Mr. Arafat reined in stone-throwing mobs.

The PLO representative also repeated demands for the Israelis to "accept an international commission on what occurred on [the Temple Mount] and what had followed."

He called on Israel to "pull back to the positions they were in before the intifada started Sept. 28."

Asked if he still intended to go the Middle East, Mr. Clinton said yesterday: "I think Secretary [of State Madeleine K.] Albright or I might go."

"Maybe in time we'll both go. I had a long talk this morning with [U.N.] Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and we've been working together in an attempt to make sure we've got substantial calm there."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday discounted the impact of Iraq's attending the Arab summit in Cairo.

"Iraq's position on the peace process is well known and, I think, heavily discounted," said Mr. Boucher at the State Department briefing yesterday.

"The fact is, the [Israelis and Palestinians] remain engaged. The parties keep working with us and we keep proceeding despite some of these voices that are trying to tear down the peace process."

The United States has appeared powerless in recent weeks to prevent the collapse of U.N. sanctions on air travel to Iraq and yesterday, as the Arab summit plans firmed up, new flights arrived from Egypt, Syria and Turkey.

Last month, Russia and France notified the United Nations and sent flights without waiting for clearance.

Now, Jordan is requesting U.N. permission for regular passenger flights, and Aeroflot, Russia's state-run airline, says it plans to resume passenger flights.

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