Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today called for an Arab summit meeting and urged the United States to deal directly with the Palestine Liberation Organization on a Middle East settlement.
Mubarak's call for a summit reflected his determination to reassert Egypt's leadership role in the Arab world. It could at the least test the response of Jordan, Morocco and the Persian Gulf Arab states, which have warmed to Egypt lately without resuming full relations.
Ignoring the fact that most Arab countries have not formally ended the political and economic boycott clamped on Egypt when it made peace with Israel three years ago, Mubarak said, "The method presently adopted by our Arab brothers to solve the Palestinian problem will not be successful unless they meet. And I invite them to meet to solve this problem."
Visiting West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher expressed support for Mubarak's position and said that now is the time to grant the Palestinians assurances. He also lashed out at Israel's invasion of Lebanon, and said "there is no reason whatsoever for the presence of Israeli forces on territories of Lebanon."
Mubarak expressed his readiness to attend a summit anywhere on the condition that the participants leave behind their past differences and agree on concerted action to end the Lebanese crisis--including agreement on whether the Palestinian guerrillas now in Lebanon should go, and if so, where.
The Arab League turned down a PLO request for a meeting on Lebanon following Israel's invasion last month.
Mubarak's summit invitation showed Egyptian dissatisfaction with the U.S. approach to working out an agreement among Israel, the Lebanese government and the PLO. This represented a shift in Egypt's stand over the last two weeks.
Initially, Egypt had entrusted U.S. special envoy Philip C. Habib with averting an Israeli assault on Beirut and securing a safe exit for Palestinian guerrillas trapped in West Beirut.
Criticizing Habib's efforts, Mubarak said, "The expulsion of the PLO from Beirut is not a solution of the Palestinian problem . . . . If they have to be expelled, they will have to be given hope and a land to live on." He warned of the possible consequences of a Palestinian exodus to different Arab countries but said, "The distribution of Palestinians among different Arab countries is an Arab--not an Israeli or American--problem.
"If the United States wants stability in this region, and is seeking a solution for the Palestinian problem , and elimination of dangers in this area, and it wants to demonstrate its support for its friends, it has to start a dialogue with Palestinians and reach a final solution for the Palestinian problem, which is a final solution for the problems existing in Lebanon and elsewhere in this region," he said.
In urging that the United States deal directly with the PLO, Mubarak also said an official of the organization has announced its readiness to recognize Israel and not seek to destroy it. "Accordingly," he said, "a mutual recognition must take place."
This was not the first time Egypt called for such dialogues, but the renewal of the call now seemed to show Egyptian officials viewed remarks this week by Secretary of State-designate George P. Shultz as providing an opportunity for widening the scope of the peace process, so far confined to Egypt, Israel and the United States.
In his remarks, Mubarak alluded to the need to resume the talks on Palestinian autonomy under new conditions, pointing out that Lebanon would not have been invaded had these talks come to a successful conclusion, and that Palestinian self-determination was "inescapable."