Washington applauds Mubarak's bold, concise style
Emerging from the shadow of the late President Anwar Sadat, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak won Washington plaudits for his frank, bold, and concise style.
But Mubarak's style left no doubt about his message: Egypt will not be pressed into signing an agreement with Israel on Palestinian autonomy unless the Egyptians believe that it provides adequately for Palestinian rights. Egypt's new leader also reaffirmed that the Palestinian issue is at the ''core'' of the Middle East conflict and cannot be evaded.
Egyptian officials say that Mubarak's first visit to Washington as President Feb. 3 to 5 was a ''management'' trip designed to put US-Egyptian relations into gear. It was not designed to produce momentous results. But the officials say that Mubarak got what he wanted from the visit:
* A promise of more flexibility in the use of American economic aid to Egypt and a commitment to increase American military aid.
* Success in communicating to US policymakers and the American public the image of a solid, competent Egyptian leader committed to peace.
* Success in clarifying reports that Egypt will invite back 66 Soviet technicians and improve relations with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
In addition, an Egyptian newspaper reports that the US has agreed to provide Egypt with 40 advanced F-16 jetfighters. This would be in addition to 40 already on the way. The account said the first six F-16's will arrive in Egypt March 24. The agreement presumably resulted from President Mubarak's trip to Washington. The Cairo press has quoted Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali as saying the US agreed to increase its annual military assistance to Egypt from $ 900 million to $1.3 billion.
Mubarak played down both the Soviet and Libyan issues, which got recent headlines. He said the technicians were being asked to complete work on three Soviet factories left unfinished after President Sadat expelled 760 Soviet experts.
''The media is making a big fuss over something unimportant,'' he added.
On relations with Libya, he stressed that his policy is not to criticize any Arab country - in comparison with the late President Sadat's often acerbic comments.
''He is your friend,'' Mubarak joked, in reference to US sales of aircraft to Colonel Qaddafi of Libya several years ago. ''You sold him Boeings, C-130s.''
Before his visit to Washington last week, President Mubarak, a man of impassive military bearing, had been relatively unknown here. He had visited Washington a number of times as vice-president, but it was President Sadat who captured American attention. Mubarak left Washington this time in no doubt that he is a strong leader in his own right.
''Mubarak used to fumble at times,'' said a highly placed State Department official. ''Now he counterpunches.''
Jewish leaders who met with Mubarak came away impressed as well. One of them described the Egyptian leader in this way: ''Sharp, in control, he says not a word more or less than he wants to say. . . . We are dealing with a leader who is really competent.''
On the Palestinian issue, President Mubarak made clear that Egypt will not be pressured into a hasty agreement with Israel on autonomy before the final Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai occurs on April 25.
''A bad agreement is much worse than no agreement,'' Mubarak stressed in a speech at the National Press Club. ''The date of reaching agreement is immaterial.''
While both Mubarak and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. repeatedly declared their adherence to the Camp David framework as the basis for reaching agreement on Palestinian autonomy, clear differences of approach remained.
Mubarak stressed the key role of Egypt in the Mideast as ''the peacemaker,'' urging the US to strengthen Egypt's hand. In private, Egyptian officials emphasized that this meant more US involvement in negotiations.
''Haig tried to keep autonomy on the back burner,'' said one Egyptian official, ''but now he knows it must be taken seriously.