US envoy tells Mubarak time is running out for Iraq
The Jerusalem Post

15 March 2003

CAIRO, Egypt - A senior US envoy met at length Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, saying afterward that war against Iraq would be a "terrible undertaking," but that little time remains to find a way out of the crisis.

Assistant US Secretary of State William Burns met with Mubarak for about 90 minutes, initially one-on-one and later with aides. He refused to take reporters' questions afterward, but reiterated in a statement that US President George W. Bush views war as a last resort.

"War is a terrible undertaking," Burns said. "But I also stressed (to Mubarak) the damage of inaction in the face of continued Iraqi defiance of the U.N. and international community."

"The (American) president continues to make every effort to find a solution, to find a way to disarm Iraq short of the use of force, but time is clearly running out," he added, without saying if he'd given Mubarak among Washington's top regional allies - any sort of timetable for military action.

Arab nations have been trying to find a way to avert war, but are hampered by divisions among them on how to approach the US-Iraq crisis. The United Arab Emirates has proposed urging Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to accept exile, an idea with some support among Gulf nations but flatly rejected by Baghdad and viewed by other Arab governments as dangerous meddling in Iraqi affairs.

The United States has said it may have to resort to force to rid Saddam of weapons of mass destruction, but such a campaign is widely viewed regionally as an effort to gain control of Iraq's vast oil reserves and install a Washington-friendly administration in Iraq.

Burns and Mubarak also discussed Bush's announcement recommitting the United States to adherence to last year's "road map" for Palestinian statehood.

"Inaction on the Palestinian-Israeli issue is in many ways just as dangerous as inaction in confronting Saddam's defiance of the international community," Burns told reporters.

Bush and Mubarak, he added, agree "on the importance of moving vigorously to realize the vision of two states."

"We have no illusions about the difficulties involved in this undertaking," he said. "It's going to require both sides to undertake some very difficult obligations, but the United States, for its part, is determined to move ahead vigorously and is confident we're going to work in close partnership with our friends in Egypt."

Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel, has been heavily involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. In January, it hosted talks among Palestinian factions aimed at bringing about a cease-fire and streamlining the Palestinian Authority. Those talks failed, but Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher has said his country is trying hard to resume such efforts.