Clinton-Mubarak talks focus on Iran Countries share terrorism concern

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- President Clinton and Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak explored ways yesterday of bringing new pressure against Iran to curb its sponsorship of terrorism and efforts to disrupt the Middle East peace process.

The United States and Egypt have raised a growing alarm in recent weeks about Iranian moves to destabilize the region and increase its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.


President Mubarak has singled out Iran as the chief instigator of a growing wave of Islamic extremist violence in Egypt that has triggered a crackdown by his government.

Mr. Clinton disclosed that he had ordered a review of whether U.S. officials reacted with enough urgency to previous Egyptian warnings about an Islamic extremist network in the United States. Mr. Mubarak, in an interview with the New York Times on Sunday, said the World Trade Center bombing could have been prevented if the United States had heeded Egypt's warnings.


But yesterday he stressed that Egypt had no specific foreknowledge of the actual bombing.

At a news conference midway through Mr. Mubarak's first official visit to the Clinton White House, the U.S. president said both men were "determined to counter Iran's involvement in terrorism and its active opposition to the Middle East peace process."

"We reviewed the common danger presented by religious extremism which promotes an intolerant agenda through violent means. We discussed ways of strengthening our cooperation in countering this and other forms of terrorism."

The United States has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since the hostage crisis in the final year of Jimmy Carter's presidency, although State Department lawyers have worked through the World Court to settle claims.

Following the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, some specialists on the region predicted that Iran would moderate its actions in a bid for improved economic ties with the West. Iran remained neutral during the war to drive Iraq from Kuwait.

But since 1990, U.S. officials say, Shiite Muslim Iran has expanded its multimillion-dollar backing for Islamic extremists and terrorists to include non-Shiite groups, including the so-called Islamic Group in Egypt and Hamas, a Palestinian group violently opposed to peace talks with Israel.

A spiritual leader of the Islamic Group living in the United States, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, has been linked with suspects arrested in the World Trade Center bombing.

Mr. Clinton refused to say what new steps are under consideration. A senior official, who briefed reporters on the two presidents' discussions on condition of anonymity, indicated that planning is still in an early stage. The National Security Council staff is spearheading a review of U.S. policy toward Iran.


The official said the two presidents talked about "what needs to be done both in terms bilateral policies and multilaterally in terms of international cooperation to be able to limit and contain Iran's negative policies of destabilization, supporting terrorism, and opposition to the peace process both in word and deed."

He added, "We're entering a discussion phase on what can feasibly be done." The United States has so far been unsuccessful in getting members of the World Bank's executive board to halt loans to Iran.

On the Mideast peace process, Mr. Mubarak backed off yesterday from a previous demand that the United States press Israel to speed up the repatriation of Palestinians expelled to Lebanon in December.

At the news conference, the Egyptian president said the United States was already doing "the maximum" to persuade Palestinians to return to peace negotiations.

He also said the peace process was not being unnecessarily slowed by U.S. refusal to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

U.S. officials indicated yesterday that the Israelis are prepared to make new concessions to Palestinians, as soon as the Palestinians agree to resume negotiations.