Egypt renewed its skepticism over a US-proposed Mideast peace conference on Monday, and its chief diplomat hinted that the heavyweight Arab nation may even not attend the gathering expected later this month.
The remarks by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit came after talks between President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as diplomatic efforts to convene the
conference have moved into high gear.
Aboul Gheit said the conference expected in Annapolis, should launch peace negotiations that end with "fulfilling the dream of the Palestinian state.
If the meeting in Annapolis will achieve that goal, let us all go to achieve that Palestinian goal," Aboul Gheit said. "But if the meeting in Annapolis will not achieve that goal, then I think Egypt and other Arab countries will have reservations to participate."
Neither Abbas nor his aids talked to the media after the discussions, but Egypt and the Palestinians have been at odds on whether the meeting has the ability to try to end the decades-long conflict.
Mubarak has been showing reluctance to support the gathering, which he and Aboul Gheit have been criticizing as lacking an agenda and an "endgame" to resolve the Israeli-Arab issue.
Summit first step towards Saudi-Israeli ties?
On Sunday, Mubarak discussed the proposed meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, another key Arab powerhouse which has showed similar skepticism on the conference.
After the meeting, Suleiman Awaad, a spokesman for Mubarak said the Egyptian leader and Abdullah expect the meeting to "set up the final solutions ... within serious negotiations and a timetable."
King Abdullah has said his country was not sure about its attendance. "This question is premature," the Saudi monarch told the British Broadcasting Corporation earlier this month.
Abdullah also said he believed the conference would fail unless the Palestinians' needs were taken more seriously and stressed the urgency for the return of Palestinian refugees to their country.
Arab commentators have suggested that inviting countries such as Saudi Arabia to the US-sponsored conference reflects attempts to initiate its contacts with Israel.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to visit the Middle East next week to put final touches on preparations for the conference, tentatively scheduled for later this month.