CAIRO, JAN. 9 -- President Hosni Mubarak arrived in Saudi Arabia today on the first leg of a six-nation Persian Gulf tour designed to confirm Egypt's return to a leadership role in the Arab world and increase Mubarak's clout in a state visit to Washington at the end of January.
The tour also could bring agreements under which Egypt would sell military equipment and know-how to the vulnerable sheikdoms in return for investment here.
King Fahd and the Saudi royal family were on hand to greet Mubarak with a 21-gun salute, handshakes, hugs and kisses. While in Riyadh, Mubarak will see U.S. Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci.
The gulf trip is Mubarak's first since nine Arab countries restored diplomatic relations with Egypt in November, ending Arab reprisals against Egypt for its 1979 peace treaty with Israel in a move aimed at enlisting Cairo to help deter Iran from expanding its war with Iraq.
Egyptian officials hope that after a triumphant reception in the gulf and a short tour of Western European nations, Mubarak will be able to press Washington, on behalf of the moderate Arab states, for an American commitment to an international conference on the Middle East and a solution for the Palestinians.
"Egypt is taking the offensive diplomatically," said a western diplomat in Cairo. "They're on a diplomatic roll."
In an arrival statement, Mubarak said relations with Saudi Arabia were strong, but he did not refer to possible military aid to the kingdom.
Mubarak's will visit Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman in addition to Saudi Arabia. In Kuwait, where Egypt already has advisers, Mubarak will seek to sell Egyptian military equipment and additional expertise.
Last month, an Egyptian military team traveled to Kuwait to study the sheikdom's air defenses and how it can protect itself against Iran's Silkworm missiles, which hit Kuwaiti targets three times in one month. Egypt's defense minister, Field Marshall Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala also visited, and Cairo held an exhibit in Kuwait of Egyptian-made armaments.
But, according to western diplomats, no deal has been struck. Some diplomats here doubt that the gulf Arab states will buy Egyptian arms when they have access to American and European weaponry.
Also in doubt is whether three gulf states will revive their investment in Egypt's arms industry, called the Arab Organization for Industrialization. The three -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar -- froze their capital when Egypt signed the peace treaty with Israel. Egypt wants them -- and the other gulf states -- to reinvest so it can expand arms exports, which now total around $1 billion a year.
In the past few days, Kuwaiti officials have said their investment in Egypt would reach $3.5 billion. They also pledged to help Egypt with its foreign debt. But officials have refrained from talking about investment in the arms industry.
As Egyptian diplomats have scurried in the last few days to prepare Mubarak's visit to Washington, there have been signs that they see the American trip as their main challenge and that the gulf tour is partly a vehicle to build Mubarak's prestige in advance of his meetings in the United States.
Egyptian officials are particularly anxious to take advantage of recent events in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to press the Americans for a commitment to a solution for the Palestinians.
"The ground is ready, and we should not lose the advantage," said a Foreign Ministry official. "The main effort should be directed toward the Americans, to move their position so that they'll weigh upon the Israelis to accept the international conference."