Symbolism or substance?
Leaders give mixed reactions to Mideast peace summit
March 13, 1996
Web posted at: 8:50 p.m. EST (0150 GMT)
From Correspondents Wolf Blitzer, Jerrold Kessel, Walter Rodgers, and Christiane Amanpour
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (CNN) -- It was a historic moment in the war against terrorism Wednesday as world leaders from 27 countries gathered at a summit in Egypt to show support for the damaged Middle East peace process.
But at its close, some doubted whether the hastily assembled meeting had any real substance. To be sure, each participant left with his own interpretation.
The host of the conference, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, declared it a success. Mubarak has said he wants to keep the Middle East peace process on track after a recent rash of suicide bombings in Israel.
The Israelis came away with more subdued opinions. Prime Minister Shimon Peres tried to convince his colleagues that terrorism poses a threat to all who have opted for peace in the region, and called upon the Palestinians to do a better job of policing militant factions.
"The Palestinians must fulfill the obligations of an elected authority," Peres said. "They must try to prevent terror which is causing the hardship in their midst. They must not permit illegal guns to aim at legal peace agreements."
Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was initiated into the anti-terrorism bloc when he attended the summit. He warned Israel that its policies of collective punishment and closure of the Palestinian authorities are strengthening the hands of Islamic extremists who plant the bombs.
Arafat said such moves fuel extremism and create a "hotbed of violence."
U.S. President Bill Clinton, who co-chaired the summit, did not go much beyond warnings and promises in fighting terrorism.
"To the forces of hatred and violence, I say and let us all say, you kill yourselves and others in the aim of killing peace, yet today, as you see, peace survives and peace will grow stronger."
-- Bill Clinton
"To the forces of hatred and violence, I say and let us all say, you kill yourselves and others in the aim of killing peace, yet today, as you see, peace survives and peace will grow stronger," Clinton said.
Together with Mubarak, Clinton promised action against terrorism, including specific follow-up proposals in 30 days. But for now, even his aides agree that the overall focus of sustaining the peace remains vague.
Conspicuously missing from the summit was Syria, a nation Clinton has aggressively courted in recent years. Syria and Lebanon decided to boycott the summit, each saying that it was too focused on Israeli rather than Arab interests.
"I really think it was a mistake for Syria not to attend. It has to do with a different definition of terrorism," Clinton said.
Iran was not invited to the summit, but its foreign ministry issued a statement Wednesday condemning all forms of terrorism. Iran also said it was being used as a scapegoat in the recent attacks and that the United States, spurred on by Israel, has adopted an increasingly hostile policy towards it.
During the summit, Peres singled out Iran as the foremost enemy of the peace accord. Iran supports Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups accused of sponsoring terrorism.
"It is a regime which initiates, promotes and exports violence and fanaticism ... Iran has become the capital of terror, (and) a conclusion must be drawn on how to contain it," Peres said.
Clinton and Peres later Wednesday flew to Israel to continue talks on a new bilateral agreement between the two countries to combat terrorism.
Outraged by recent acts of terror in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Clinton wanted to send a powerful message to Israel's increasingly skeptic citizens.
"Israel is not alone. There are peacemakers who stand together for the cause of peace," Clinton said. (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)
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