In what may be the start of Egypt's reconciliation with the Arab world, Iraq sent a high-level delegation here late last month seeking support and arms to offset reverses in the war with Iran, acccording to Egyptian and Western diplomatic sources.
There are indications the visit is part of a larger diplomatic effort by the moderate Arab Persian Gulf states and Iraq to engineer Egypt's reentry into the Arab fold following the final Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula on April 25.
Results of the talks, other than an Egyptian agreement to continue selling Iraq ammunition and spare parts, have not been made known. The state-controlled press has given no publicity to the visit, and government and military spokesmen refused to comment on it. But none denied that it took place.
Precisely what Iraq hoped to accomplish other than to obtain more arms and ammunition, following the March 21 Iranian offensive, was not clear. One report said the Iraqis had also asked for planes and tanks but that the Egyptians had refused, not wishing to aggravate the fighting.
The Iraqi delegation is said to have been the highest-ranking Arab group to have visited Cairo since early 1979, when most Arab nations cut off diplomatic relations with Egypt after the late president Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Several Persian Gulf countries, said to include Saudi Arabia and Iraq, have already let Egypt know they stand ready to upgrade their diplomatic representation in Cairo shortly after the withdrawal, according to one gulf Arab diplomat familiar with the contacts now taking place between Egypt and the Arab gulf governments.
He said this might fall short of restoring full diplomatic relations but would signal the willingness of these Arab states to deal openly once again with Egypt.
Already, a similar Arab signal has come from a meeting of nonaligned foreign ministers in Kuwait--which allowed Egypt to send a delegation. It was the first time since 1979 that an Arab government that severed ties has allowed an Egyptian delegation into its country.
United Press International reported from Kuwait that the meeting saw the Arab nations move toward welcoming Egypt back into the fold when they approved a communique that only mildly criticized the Camp David accords. An Egyptian diplomat hailed the meeting as "a turning point in relations, perhaps in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It could be the beginning of a new process."
During the conference, delegation leader Ismat Abdel Maguid, Egypt's U.N. ambassador, called on the nonaligned group to accept as its policy the "simultaneous and reciprocal recognition" of each other by Israel and the Palestinian people.
The proposal was rejected by the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization delegation, Farouk Kaddoumi, and by Algeria, Syria and South Yemen, indicating that Egypt still faces rough going before it is accepted again by the entire Arab League.
Egyptian officials from President Hosni Mubarak on down have been expressing their growing concern about the course of the Iranian-Iraqi war and its possible destabilizing effects on the Arab gulf states. The war was reportedly a major topic at Mubarak's meeting with his top aides March 31.
After the meeting, Osama Baz, a presidential adviser, told reporters Egypt had sent no officers or troops to aid the Iraqis, but he confirmed that it had sent ammunition. He added, however, that Egypt had not increased the amount lately because of the reverses Iraq has been suffering on the battlefield.
Sadat began selling Iraq ammunition and spare parts about a year ago, and since then Egypt has regularly provided them on the same cash-and-carry basis.
The reported presence of an unidentified "senior" Iraqi government official in the delegation sent here seems to indicate more than arms were involved in their talks with Egyptians. Some reports said the Iraqi delegation met with Mubarak during its visit but this could not be confirmed.