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TIME IS RIGHT FOR PEACE PACT, MUBARAK SAYS

SHARE TIME IS RIGHT FOR PEACE PACT, MUBARAK SAYS

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Monday after a meeting with President Bush that a "golden opportunity" exists for an eventual settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

After meeting with Bush for almost an hour, Mubarak told reporters the essential next step in the peace process is to convince the Israelis and the Palestinians to enter into a dialogue without preconditions.Asserting that he believes a comprehensive settlement is possible eventually, Mubarak said, "It would be a grave mistake to miss the golden opportunity existing today. A continuation of the status quo is hazardous to both parties."

Mubarak met with Bush against a background of U.S. efforts to persuade a reluctant Israel to open discussions with Palestinians based on proposals set forth by the Egyptian leader.

U.S. officials regard the 10-point Egyptian plan as a complement to the proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir for elections in which Palestinians would select representatives to negotiate with Israel on limited self-government in the occupied territories.

After the Oval Office meeting, Mubarak was off to the State Department for lunch with Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Mubarak addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Friday and arrived in Washington on Sunday. His visit is officially listed as private.

Shortly before leaving for the State Department, Baker reaffirmed to reporters his backing for Mubarak's initiative, calling it a way to get an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue that would, in turn, pave the way for Palestinian elections.

"We won't get to peace until Palestinians and Israelis speak to each other," Baker said.

As photographers snapped pictures at the outset of the meeting, Bush was asking the Egyptian leader, "Did you get any squash in?"

"I didn't find time to. I didn't find any place," replied Mubarak, an avid squash player.