- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

From combined dispatches
SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said yesterday he will press Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to accept a return of international arms inspectors and suggested the Iraqi leader will soon agree.
"I think, as far as my knowledge is, that he is going to accept the inspectors," Mr. Mubarak told reporters at a joint news conference with Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who is on a tour of the region.
"We'll try hard [to get] Saddam Hussein to accept the U.N. inspectors to go there," said Mr. Mubarak, who did not explain the source of his information about Saddam's intentions. "We are going to meet some of his special envoys and tell them that this is a must."
Mr. Mubarak said he understood that the return of the inspectors would be arranged through negotiations with the United Nations. Washington has insisted on unconditional inspections of Iraq's weapons capabilities.
Asked whether Saddam should be toppled if he did not admit inspectors, Mr. Mubarak left the door open to further action, saying, "If there is nothing happening, we'll find out what could be done in that direction."
But, Mr. Mubarak cautioned, "it is of vital importance to maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. This is a must for preserving regional stability."
The vice president is on tour of 11 Middle East states, seeking support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism and its goal of keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of Saddam.
Mr. Mubarak's comments were a welcome development for Mr. Cheney, whose Middle East swing got off to a rocky start on Tuesday when Jordan's King Abdullah warned him against attacking Iraq.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia also are concerned about a breakup of Iraq following any departure of Saddam.
The Egyptian leader is scheduled to meet today with Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council. Mr. Ibrahim was in Lebanon yesterday in a bid to organize opposition to a possible U.S. strike.
Mr. Mubarak also said that "every possible effort" should be made to resolve the impasse over weapons inspections "without inflicting more suffering on the Iraqi people."
Earlier, in a speech to U.S. troops at a international peacekeeping post in the Sinai, Mr. Cheney said the next objective in the war on terror after crushing al Qaeda, the network of Islamic militant Osama bin Laden would be keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of would-be terrorists.
A senior U.S. official told reporters that the increasingly bloody violence between Israelis and Palestinians was taking time from Mr. Cheney's discussions with Middle East leaders about the war on terrorism and the U.S. drive to prevent Iraq from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction.
But it has not pushed the other issues off the agenda nor has it weakened U.S. determination, the official said.
Israel has been conducting its biggest military offensive in 35 years in the West Bank and Gaza, using armored vehicles and tanks. At least 1,057 Palestinians and 341 Israelis have been killed since the violence began September 2000.

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