Barak Launches Peace Push

Only three days after taking office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Friday, marking the start of a bid to restore momentum to a stagnant Middle East peace process.

Speaking to reporters in the seaside Egyptian city of Alexandria, Barak said it was time to end Â"100 years of conflict between Israel and the Arabs,Â" and said he was determined to bring peace to the region.

After talks with the new Israeli prime minister, Mubarak said he had high hopes that Barak would succeed in bringing peace, but he said it would take Â"some time.Â"

Â"We consider the peace process is vital to the cause of stability in the whole area,Â" Mubarak said. Â"I had great hopes since the prime minister took office and we are looking forward, but we have to give him some time to make a reshaping of the situation,Â" he said.

Addressing what had been a key sticking point in the peace process, Barak said Israel would build no new settlements in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, adding that it would neither dismantle any existing ones.

On the prospects of peace with Syria, Barak said he was fully aware of the expectations and opportunities, adding: Â"I am determined to look for ways to go forward without any preference, or leaving anyone behind.Â"

Some Palestinian officials have expressed concern that Barak might slow down negotiations with the Palestinians while he undertakes a new push for peace with Syria and Lebanon.

Barak, who formally took office on Tuesday, held more than two hours of talks with Mubarak.

He plans to see Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on Sunday, Jordan's King Abdullah on Tuesday and President Clinton next Thursday in an attempt to create an atmosphere conducive to peacemaking.

Asked whether he intended to implement the Wye land-for-security deal signed in October by Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who later froze it, Barak said only that the Jewish state would abide by international agreements.

An Israeli diplomat said Barak's choice of Egypt as his first foreign call after taking office showed he was Â"taking into consideration the vote of the Israeli people.Â"

Barak, a former army chief, ousted rightist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May elections on a promise to revive stalled peace moves with the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria.

Israel's Foreign Minister David Levy had sought to lower expectations ahead of Barak's first peace missions as prime minister, saying they were mainly to break the ice with Arabs.

A member of Barak's cabinet, Haim Ramon, said on Wednesday that Israel would seek changes in the Wye accord, but only with Palestinian consent. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel carry it out in full, including a pledged handover of West Bank land.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report