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Barak briefs Mubarak on summit prospects

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CAIRO — Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met President Hosni Mubarak Monday to discuss a U.S.-hosted peace summit that has shredded his ruling coalition.

The Egyptian leader, who held talks with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat Sunday, listened to Barak's views on the summit that aims to end the 52-year-old Middle East conflict, an Egyptian official said.

"The Israeli prime minister confirmed he is going to Camp David with guarded hopes, knowing the difficulties that await them (the two parties)," Mubarak's political adviser Osama al-Baz told reporters.

"He is aware that the issues are very complicated and the two sides have entered a stage where they should face facts."

Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said Sunday that Mubarak would stress to Barak the urgency for a successful summit, aimed at making possible a final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement by the Sept. 13 deadline agreed by both sides.

"This summit has a chance to achieve something, but this requires political will," he told reporters. "It requires all sides to have the courage and boldness to make peace."

Moussa said Barak's "five no's" hung like a dark cloud over the summit and, if they represented Israel's real position, it would be hard to accomplish anything tangible at the summit.

Barak, while refusing to spell out his bottom line, has laid out five "red lines" that reject any return to the pre-war 1967 borders, any entry of a foreign army in the West Bank, any assumption of responsibility for creating the Palestinian refugee problem, any change in Jerusalem's status as a united city under Israeli sovereignty and any deal that would prevent most Jewish settlers remaining in blocs in the West Bank.

Already modest hopes for the summit at the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David plunged Sunday when Barak's right-wing and religious allies deserted his government, saying he had failed to consult them at a crucial moment in peacemaking.

Barak, who returned to Jerusalem after meeting Mubarak to face a no-confidence motion in his splintered government, has vowed to go to Camp David whatever happens, appealing directly to Israeli voters to support him.

Baz said disputes inside the Israeli coalition were an internal affair with no bearing on peace efforts. "He (Barak) said his general trend is to do his best to reach an agreement and local policies will not prevent him," he said.

In a televised address Sunday, Barak promised to put any peace deal to Israel's first national referendum.

"If we return with an agreement, it will be an agreement that Ehud Barak will have complete faith in, and I have no doubt it will pass with an overwhelming majority," Barak's chief security adviser, Danny Yatom, told Israel Radio Monday.

An opinion poll published Monday in Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper showed a majority of Israelis in favor of making compromises for peace at the summit hosted by President Clinton and starting Tuesday.

Three of Barak's coalition parties quit Sunday, stripping him of a majority in parliament. Foreign Minister David Levy, a member of Barak's One Israel faction, rejected an invitation to join Barak at the open-ended summit.

Israel radio said Barak would ask Mubarak about Azzam Azzam, an Israeli businessman jailed by Egypt three years ago for spying. Baz did not confirm that Barak had raised the issue, but said it could have no connection to Middle East peacemaking.

"We cannot link the peace process, a critical cause for the future of the region, to an individual case. We cannot accept it as a bargaining chip," he said.

Mubarak has in the past firmly rejected pressure for Azzam's release, saying he cannot interfere in the judicial process.

Azzam, convicted of espionage in August 1997, was sentenced to 15 years in jail with hard labor. Israel described the verdict as an outrage and insisted Azzam was innocent.