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Mideast, world observe historic anniversary

By Wolf Blitzer

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CNN's Matthew Chance reports on the legacy of the historic 1978 Mideast peace talks at Camp David (September 18)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was one of those historic breakthroughs that even now -- exactly 25 years later -- has left a powerful legacy on the people of the Middle East.

After 13 difficult days of intense negotiations, then-President Jimmy Carter managed to bring Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together for peace.

The previous November, Sadat had broken ranks with the Arab world and made his dramatic visit to Jerusalem to embark on the path toward peace.

Former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was Egypt's foreign minister.

"It was a lonely president going to Jerusalem," he told CNN recently. "This courage is essential if you want to achieve a peace or we want to progress in a peace process."

It was an extremely high-risk venture for President Carter. There was no guarantee of success.

"There has only been one time in history when both the United States and the Soviet Union put their nuclear forces on alert, and that was over the Middle East," former President Jimmy Carter told CNN last December.

The stakes could not have been higher. Remember, it was only five years after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Failure could have plunged the region back into another all-out war.

President Carter kept his Egyptian and Israeli guests holed up in the secure and secluded presidential retreat in Maryland's Catactin Mountains. The strategy: Don't let them leave without a deal.

Shimon Peres, former Israeli prime minister, offers this assessment of the peace talks: "I believe Sadat was an outstanding statesman, and Mister Begin raised to the occasion, and President Carter did an outstanding job -- worked hard day in and day out to overcome differences."

In the end, on that September 17, 1978, Egypt, the largest and militarily most powerful of Arab states, agreed to make peace with its neighbor, Israel. The formal peace treaty was signed the following March at the White House.

And despite the ups and downs of the peace process and the often tense relationship between Israel and Egypt since then, that treaty remains in effect today. Tragically, Anwar Sadat was later assassinated and paid for that peace with his life.

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