President Clinton, opening four days of Middle East diplomacy, prepared to turn up the pressure on PLO chairman Yasser Arafat today to crack down on Palestinian terrorists.
Arriving here in the early-morning hours on the first leg of his six-country tour, Clinton was en route to the showcase event of his trip _ a historic peace treaty signing between Jordan and Israel.
But hours before the ceremony, the president stopped in the Egyptian capital to deliver a message to Arafat, who was boycotting the gala celebration at a Jordan-Israel desert border crossing.
Clinton would press the Palestine Liberation Organization leader for a "concerted effort to thwart and throttle terrorism" by Hamas, the radical Palestinian organization opposed to Arafat's peace with Israel, said State Department spokesman Michael McCurry.
U.S. officials are far from satisfied with Arafat. They fault him for trying to ride two horses at once, by giving political and even economic support to Hamas and other extremists even as he disowns the terrorists among those groups.
As one expression of that displeasure, the Clinton administration planned to keep the president's private sessions with Arafat far away from news cameras, denying him the joint, hands-clasped photograph that is customary for such meetings.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak greeted Clinton upon his arrival at the airport here. The two leaders, accompanied by their wives, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Suzanne Mubarak, headed immediately for the tomb of assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who led the move toward Egypt's 1979 treaty with Israel. There were no public statements.
On the flight from Washington, Secretary of State Warren Christopher cautioned against overly high expectations from Clinton's coming visit to Syria.
"I would urge that the best way to evaluate . . . the president's trip is to look back on it six months from now, not to try to evaluate it in present-day terms," Christopher said aboard Air Force One.
Asked whether the United States was prepared to take Syria off the list of terrorist nations, Christopher said it would not happen as a result of this trip. "We look for action."