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Egypt and Syria Try to Settle Rift

December 17, 1989

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ President Hafez Assad met Sunday with an Egyptian government minister for the latest in a series of talks aimed at ending a 10-year-old rift between the two major Arab powers.

Egyptian Information Minister Safwat al-Sharif was sent by Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak.

Al-Sharif became the first Egyptian presidential emissary to visit Demascus since Syria broke relations with Cairo in 1979 to protest the late President Anwar Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel. The rift between the two Arab states has been a major stumbling block to Arab unity.

Assad’s spokesman, Jibran Kourieh, said the Syrian president will dispatch a personal envoy to Mubarak within the next few days.

He said that during the meeting with al-Sharif, Assad ″expressed Syria’s keenness to strengthen cooperation with Egypt in various fields.″

The Egyptian envoy, accompanied by senior officials of Cairo’s Foreign Ministry, delivered a letter from Mubarak to Assad, who in turn gave Sharif a letter to deliver to Mubarak.

The contents were not disclosed. But Sharif said when he arrived at Damascus airport that the rapprochement that was started ″when the two leaders met in Casablanca is continuing permanently, and we are all witnessing the positive developments between the two countries.″

Assad and Mubarak met in the Moroccan city in May during an Arab summit conference. They met twice in October and agreed to build economic ties in agriculture, oil and industry.

Sharif said, ″God willing, we hope to proceed forward on the road of common Arab action and joint struggle through the mutual understanding between presidents Mubarak and Assad.″

Egypt was returned to the Arab fold after an Arab summit in 1987 gave the green light to restoring relations with Cairo. Since then most of the Arab states that severed links in 1979 have resumed them. Only radical Syria and Libya have yet to do so formally, but both are now moving down that road.

Last week, Mubarak and Assad agreed during a telephone conversation to resume direct flights between Cairo and Damascus by their national airlines.

The first Egypt Air jetliner to touch down in Damascus in a decade landed Tuesday, carrying Maj. Gen. Samir Rashad, Egypt’s deputy transport minister.

Egypt and Libya restored air links in June and reopened their border, closed since 1977 when they fought a five-day war.

Mubarak has lately been acting as a key mediator between Israel, the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arab states in trying to forge a Middle East peace settlement.

Syria also is at odds with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and has rejected his peace initiative toward Israel, a move strongly backed by Egypt.

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