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Egypt asserts need for PLO role in Mideast peace talks

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Egypt still wants a ``seat'' for the Palestine Liberation Organization at an international peace conference, according to a high level Egyptian official. Osama Baz, director of President Hosni Mubarak's Bureau for Political Affairs, on Monday gave the first government confirmation that Cairo's position on PLO participation in peace talks hadn't changed despite its closure of PLO offices here three weeks ago. Widespread reports have suggested that Egypt and Jordan were ready to bypass the PLO in the peace process.

In a conversation with Western reporters, Dr. Baz also confirmed that attempts were under way to reconcile Egypt and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, but he said adequate steps had not yet been taken. He did not say what Egypt expected of the PLO.

Baz adopted a tolerant view of the decision by the Palestine National Council in Algiers in late April to cut back on relations with Egypt because of its peace treaty with Israel. He said its decision to give in to Syrian pressure was understandable because ``the PLO is functioning in exile'' and is ``dependent on the good will of many Arab governments.'' His comments were in sharp contrast to Cairo's fury three weeks ago.

``We should not deprive them of the chance to be tested'' in their ability to reach peace with Israel, Baz said of the PLO. Just because they succumbed to pressure, he said, ``this does not mean they do not deserve a seat .... They have not closed the door.''

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