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Palestinians take `giant step' in bid to reshape Mideast. Egypt looks to US for next move to nudge Israel toward talks

Egypt will urge the United States to open a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization, now that the PLO has accepted United Nations Resolution 242 and - implicitly - coexistence with Israel. Egypt has been using its status as the only Arab nation simultaneously on good terms with the United States, Israel, and the PLO to try to bring about Middle East peace negotiations based on 242. The resolution calls for Israel's withdrawal from Arab lands it militarily occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace.

``We will concentrate our efforts now on the American administration, not on the Israelis,'' said an aide to Egypt's foreign minister. ``The Americans are our next target.''

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The strategy reflects Egypt's conviction that, in the end, the US will have to pressure Israel to join negotiations.

``I think the PLO has recognized all the preconditions for beginning a dialogue with Washington,'' said the Egyptian aide. ``They have accepted the Jewish state as a neighbor.''

A Foreign Ministry official adds: ``This is a giant step for them, knowing their views and their psychological development.''

As to how soon Cairo will press Washington on behalf of the PLO, the government of President Hosni Mubarak is being patient.

``We have to be realistic,'' said the aide, ``Nothing will happen till Jan. 20,'' But he pointed out that Egypt's foreign minister and President-elect George Bush had a warm relationship when they served as their countries' chief delegates to the UN, a fact that may help Egypt promote its cause.

Egypt also warmly welcomed yesterday's declaration of an independent Palestinian state, but did not immediately extend recognition.

Informed sources in Cairo said Egypt's recognition was expected after officials read the full text of the resolution. A Palestinian delegation was expected on yesterday afternoon to brief the Egyptian government.

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``We are waiting to carefully read the decisions'' President Mubarak said. ``Egypt supports the Palestinian cause.... It will never abandon it.''

If bringing the PLO and Washington together is difficult, so is Cairo's twin aim of reforging the link between the PLO and Jordan.

Both Egypt and the United States believe that the Palestinians and Jordan must be linked at an international peace conference, and later in a confederation.

Despite a highly publicized meeting between the King and Arafat in the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba last month, Jordanian sources say there has been no detailed discussion of a confederation and that a joint delegation is not under consideration.

``We are not talking about any joint delegation,'' Jordan's information minister, Hani Khasawneh, said in a telephone interview.

Nevertheless, Egypt will persist. ``The coordination between King Hussein and Arafat is vital for international recognition,'' said the foreign minister's aide.

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