Mubarak Upbeat After Netanyahu Talks

CAIRO -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Friday he was optimistic Arabs could make peace with Israel's hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mubarak, who hosted a meeting of Arab leaders last month that warned Israel not to back down from its peace commitments, told Egyptian television he found Netanyahu "very receptive" during two hours of talks in Cairo on Thursday.

It was the Israeli leader's first visit to an Arab country since he led his right-wing Likud party to power seven weeks ago, calling for a tougher line in Arab-Israeli peace talks.

"Most people were pessimistic and I had my fears but I found a great hope that peace can be achieved with the Likud leader," Mubarak said.

Despite few signs of concessions from Netanyahu, Mubarak stuck to his upbeat view of the Cairo talks. "I believe the [peace] process will continue and although there may be difficulties from time to time I have great hope that it will continue because Netanyahu wants to reach peace," Mubarak said.

Mubarak's assessment of the meeting differed from that of senior Palestinian officials who said Netanyahu had yet to soften his hardline stance.

Khaled Salam, an aide to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, said Netanyahu spoke softly following his first official meeting with Mubarak but gave no answers to any of the key questions crucial to Middle East peace-making.

Asked about Netanyahu's opposition to returning captured Arab land in return for peace, a key principle for Arabs in any peace talks, Mubarak said:

"I mentioned the principle of land for peace to Netanyahu and he didn't oppose it." He added that the Israeli leader pledged to implement all Israel's commitments from the 1991 Madrid peace conference and its landmark autonomy accords with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has said his interpretation of land-for-peace is that Israel already gave back 90 percent of the land it took in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when it handed Sinai back to Egypt.

But Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said after Thursday's meeting he considered Netanyahu's reference to the Madrid conference, which reinforced the land-for-peace formula, as a sign of progress.