CAIRO, JULY 14 -- Syrian President Hafez Assad arrived in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria today for talks with President Hosni Mubarak in a visit that caps the two Arab countries' recent shift from adversaries to allies.
Assad, making his first trip to Egypt in almost 14 years, was warmly greeted by Mubarak in a televised ceremony at Alexandria airport. Enthusiastic crowds waved flags and held signs recalling the two countries' union from 1958 to 1961 as the United Arab Republic.
Assad severed diplomatic relations in 1977 after Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's history-making trip to Jerusalem, and restored them only last December. Mubarak visited Damascus in May.
The two countries' renewed friendship represents an important new factor in inter-Arab affairs. At the very least, it will ease Syria's years of diplomatic isolation.
For Egyptians, Assad's presence in their country is perhaps the most reliable indication that the Syrian leader has finally accepted the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which he so scathingly attacked for many years. Syria was the last Arab country to seek reconcilation with Cairo, which was formally welcomed back to the Arab fold in May of last year.
The talks in Alexandria, which will last three and perhaps four days, will cover a broad range of Arab issues, including the continued strife in Lebanon, where Syria has about 40,000 troops, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Egyptian officials said. The Israeli-Palestinian matter is one on which Assad and Mubarak have longstanding differences, which are expected to continue despite their new relationship, officials here said.
Assad, for years the Arab world's most unyielding foe of Israel, has long called for an international conference to hammer out a comprehensive peace that would not only settle the Israeli-Palestinian problem but also return Syria's Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Mubarak, on the other hand, worked closely with the United States for several months on a now-defunct initiative to set up direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
During his talks with Assad, Mubarak hopes to advance his efforts to reconcile the Syrian leader with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the Syrian's most bitter Arab foe, and with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, officials said.
The deep Syrian-Iraqi enmity kept Assad from attending the Arab League summit in May because it was held in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. The Assad-Arafat feud was one reason for Assad's failure to support Mubarak's peace efforts.
The renewed friendship between Syria and Egypt reflects broader changes in the Arab world that have forced Assad to reassess his policies and alliances to diminish years of isolation from other Arab states.
Once the Soviet Union's closest Arab ally, events there and in Eastern Europe have deprived Syria of Moscow's once-total support.
Syria swam against the Arab mainstream during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. It was the only Arab state supporting Iran. Syria is also the only Arab country that does not belong to one of the region's three economic blocs.
For its part, Cairo would like to see closer Syrian-Egyptian coordination to balance Egypt's relations with Saddam Hussein, whose militant rhetoric of late has worried Mubarak, officials here said.