- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher Sayed says a U.S.-brokered Middle East peace plan should be implemented immediately, and that any cooling-off period before negotiations should be dramatically shortened.

"Six weeks is too long," Mr. Sayed said of the proposed period for cooling off and confidence-building in the plan put forward by CIA Director George Tenet.

Mr. Sayed, who met in Washington late last week with Secretary of State Colin Powell, told journalists afterward that he believed the Bush administration "shares our sense of urgency."

Speaking of a "fragile cease-fire," he urged the United States to push hard for implementation of the Tenet proposals, such as a freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements in disputed territory. He pledged Egypt would work with the United States, "since we share the same goals."

Mr. Sayed also suggested a third-party presence in the area "not only to observe but to deter any attempts to break the cease-fire."

Noting the presence of European Union observers within Israel, Mr. Sayed said, "We should develop this embryo. … It would invigorate the cease-fire."

The Israeli government, however, objects to the presence of observers in the disputed areas.

Egypt, a long-time supporter of Palestinian self-determination, has been surprised, Mr. Sayed said, by the balanced approach of the new U.S. administration. Senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, meeting Mr. Powell yesterday, expressed similar views, saying the secretary had "heard me out."

Addressing domestic Egyptian concerns, Mr. Sayed condemned a published report about the case of Saad Eddin Ibrahim as "full of misrepresentations and misinformation."

Mr. Ibrahim, a prominent intellectual with dual Egyptian and U.S. citizenship, was arrested last June while preparing to film a documentary on Egypt´s parliamentary elections.

"Talk of a lack of freedom of expression is not true," Mr. Sayed said, insisting that while the degree of openness in Egypt has "not reached perfection," it is certainly in existence. He said Mr. Powell had brought up the case during their meeting.

Mr. Powell will travel to the Middle East tomorrow to try to shore up the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and prepare the way for negotiations.

Praising the Bush administration´s new level of activity in the area, Mr. Sayed urged a prompt move to negotiations on a permanent resolution for the Palestinian territories.

"It is very important to work for a final settlement to allow the area to live in peace," he said.

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