An item in the Diplomatic Dispatches column yesterday erroneously credited Washington's Textile Museum for restoring two 17th-century tapes tries hanging at the Dutch Embassy. They were restored by a private contractor who worked for the museum. (Published 11/18/99)

Egypt's new ambassador to Washington sounded a note of caution yesterday about premature guesswork on what has been learned so far from the flight recorders of EgyptAir Flight 990, which crashed off Nantucket Island on Oct. 31, killing 217 people.

In his second public briefing since he arrived here last month, Nabil Fahmy dodged a question on Egyptian discomfort with the fact that the investigation may be turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "We have authorized the National Transportation Safety Board and the American government to conduct the investigation; we are in constant touch," said Fahmy as he was about to leave for another briefing. An Arab official stressed that there is no conflict with the Americans. The official added, however, "We don't feel there is enough evidence to warrant turning it over to the FBI."

Fahmy heard the tapes Monday night, according to Egyptian officials in Washington, and was huddled in meetings with FBI officials for most of the afternoon yesterday. But he refused to clarify on what basis the Arabic words uttered by one of the crewmen led officials to contemplate turning matters over to the FBI. "I know, yes, but as to whether I am going to indulge you, no, I am not," he said. "I don't think it is constructive to go into piecemeal interpretations. Initial analysis is based on accurate but incomplete information. In this case, it is the first piece of the puzzle. In five more hours it could go in the other direction."

Later in the evening he explained: "The objective of the Egyptian government and the United States government is to reach a thorough, comprehensive resolution of this matter." A senior Egyptian diplomat said following deliberations with the FBI that more Egyptian investigators are on their way here to assist in the inquiry. "We are providing more assistance and more personnel in the next few days. They will be arriving here from Egypt," the diplomat said.

Fahmy is the son of Ismail Fahmy, the foreign minister under the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The ambassador spoke yesterday at the Israeli Policy Forum Washington Center, which described itself as a pro-peace think tank. The 48-year-old diplomat has served as ambassador to Japan, as political adviser to Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and as head of the Egyptian delegation to the Middle East peace process steering committee. He is also a widely published expert on weapons of mass destruction.

His talk was mainly devoted to the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. "The best deal may not be a sustainable deal. If it is not a sustainable deal, in the end it is not the best deal," he said of the need to secure the interests of both the Arab and Israeli sides. "My generation has lived through four wars and I don't want this for my children. But this does not mean I am ready for quick fixes," he explained.

He said it is imperative that Palestinians be granted statehood and that the problems of refugees, settlements and Jerusalem be addressed. "It is in the end a conflict between people about land. If you solve a problem between people without land or if you solve a problem over land without people, it is not going to work. Empowerment is not enough," he emphasized. The genius of the 1993 Oslo accords between Israelis and Palestinians, he added, was that it put them on an equal footing and brought in the concept of land within the context of the peacemaking foreseen at a general Israeli-Arab conference in Madrid. He deflected questions about Egypt's reported coolness toward more countries establishing relations with Israel, saying his country should be judged by its consistency over time toward the peace process.

An Extravagant Dutch Treat

If you cannot find plums around Washington's posh food outlets or if the price of black figs has gone up recently, it is due to an innocent if extravagant act of exquisite cultural diplomacy. Ambassador Joris Vos of the Netherlands launched the first public viewing of his revamped residence with breathtaking style at a reception Monday amid "A Fall Festival of Flowers," as his invitation said, and "Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness," the essence of autumn as captured by John Keats. Well, 10,000 flowers to be exact, freshly cut and flown in last week, and mounds of countless red pears, black figs and plums (bought from local wholesalers) and piled festively on ruffles of dark red calla lilies, resembling the dress collars of Dutch royalty.

Newly equipped with quality climate control, the Dutch residence now houses an expanded collection of Dutch masters and contemporary Dutch works of art. Two 17th century Dutch tapestries, restored by Washington's Textile Museum, across S Street from the residence, have been rehung. A "scathing" report requested by the Netherlands' General Accounting Office on aging embassies led to a relaxation of the Foreign Ministry's purse strings, the ambassador said.