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Mubarak sends Bush 2 'angry' letters on Mideast

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak  

From Andrea Koppel and Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In two "angry" letters, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has warned President Bush that the Israeli invasion of Palestinian territories is rapidly spinning out of control, senior Arab diplomats said Wednesday.

One diplomat indicated Egypt -- which in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel -- is warning it may be forced to break diplomatic relations with that nation. But the diplomat said Egypt isn't considering severing diplomatic relations with the United States or going to war against Israel.

The message of both of Mubarak's letters to Bush is that "the continuation of the current situation will have serious and dire consequences on all of our interests in the region," the diplomat told CNN.

The first of the two letters went out within hours of the start of Israel's attack last week on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah; the second letter was sent in recent days.

On Wednesday, Egypt fired a symbolic shot across Israel's bow by announcing it was severing all contact with Israel, with the exception of those contacts relating to the peace process.

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In addition to Egypt, Israel has relations with two other Arab countries: Relations were established with Jordan in 1994 and with Mauritania in 1999.

Diplomats say the Arab world is looking to the United States to "draw red lines" for Israel, to force it to withdraw its forces from Palestinian territories.

Egypt's move to curtail diplomatic links with Israel comes as Arab diplomats in Washington are pressuring the Bush administration to get more involved in trying to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire. The State Department urged Cairo to maintain ties with Israel.

"As a general principle, and at this sensitive time, we believe that dialogue is important and we encourage Egypt and Israel to maintain the closest possible contacts," said Susan Pittman, a State Department spokeswoman.

Even though Egypt withdrew its ambassador to Israel months ago, its embassy is still open and staffed by senior Egyptian officials.

Tuesday, an estimated 1 million demonstrators took to the streets across Egypt to express their anger with the United States and Israel. That kind of sentiment expressed throughout the Arab world "clouds everything else," explained one senior diplomat.

Arab leaders are worried that the recent military actions and public statements by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- such as his offer to Arafat of a "one-way ticket" out of the Palestinian territories -- show he wants to kill the Oslo peace process.

On Saturday, Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States and the dean of the Arab diplomatic corps in Washington, met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. That meeting was followed by a meeting of the entire Arab diplomatic corps with the State Department's assistant secretary for Near East affairs, William Burns.

Diplomats said the group pressured the Bush administration specifically to guarantee the safety of Arafat and to call on Israel to immediately withdraw from Palestinian territories.

Arab leaders face pressure at home

One diplomat said that during the meeting, Arab officials warned Burns that their leaders are under intense pressure from their citizens. If violence erupts throughout the region, they would "continue to lose political credit" at home, the officials warned.

"Given this situation, Arab countries are keen to preserve political face at home," one diplomat said.

Diplomats said that in addition to curbing anger among their citizens, the Arabs are also trying to preserve the peace proposal advanced by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

The Arab League endorsed the Saudi proposal last week. It calls for Arab states to normalize relations with Israeli in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to borders before the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel gained control of the Palestinian territories.

These diplomats say that they are urging the United States to "clarify its position," because they believe U.S. statements have indicated a lack of willingness on the part of the Bush administration to "take a stand."

"It is in the gray right now," one official said of the Bush administration's policy.

Lacking any clear indication to the contrary, Arab diplomats said, they have decided the United States has given a "green light" to Israel's military activity.

They are also using the United Nations as the forum for its confronting Israel.

On Wednesday, Arab countries sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling on Israel to stop the violence.

The Arab League, a coalition of 22 Arab nations, is also scheduled to meet in Cairo Saturday to formulate a joint position on how to deal with the crisis, diplomats said. Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa on Wednesday denounced Israel's military operations in the West Bank as "carnage," saying Palestinian civilians are suffering.

"The situation is very, very serious, and it is going from bad to worse," Moussa said in an interview with CNN.




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