Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr in Cairo on Wednesday, for talks which included fraying Israel-Egypt relations and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Amr said that an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo earlier this month, "was quite unfortunate, and I think it was condemned by all responsible parties in Egypt at the time. We made it very clear that Egypt respects its commitment under the Vienna 1961 treaty on diplomatic relations. We made it clear that we are committed to protect any mission on our soil and the personnel working in them.
"The army was very careful to see that all the personnel that wanted to leave left under the guard of the army. No one was hurt. We made sure that everyone was safe. And I think we were very clear in just reiterating our commitments to the protection of any missions and personnel."
Concerning recent attempts by Congress to impose conditions on American aid to Egypt, Clinton that the Obama administration opposed such a move.
"We are against conditionality. And I conveyed our position to the minister. We will be working very hard with the Congress to convince the Congress that that is not the best approach to take," she said. "We believe that the long-standing relationship between the United States and Egypt is of paramount importance to both of us. We support the democratic transition, and we don't want to do anything that in any way draws into question our relationship or our support.
We also believe that the army has played a very stabilizing, important role during this period. You can see what happens when you either don't have an institution like the institutions that Egypt has, including an army. And you've seen what happens when the army is not on the side of the people. Well, Egypt's strong institutions, long- standing respect for the army and the role the army played was absolutely critical for the revolution.
"So we're going to make that case very strongly, and I want to be sure that Egyptians know that the Obama administration opposes conditionality and do not believe that's in the best interests of our relationship.
Clinton's statement follow a speech Amr made to the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, in which he attacked Israel and called on the nations of the world to recognize a Palestinian state, saying that the establishment of a Palestinian state is the only way to achieve a just peace based on two states.
He accused Israel of ignoring the international community, continuing its policy of settlement expansion, relentlessly continuing the blockade on Gaza, violently assaulting civilians, and continuously violating international law.
It was absurd to negotiate peace while Israel was continuing to build in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, he said.
Clinton, meanwhile, said a demarcation of borders between Israeli and Palestinian territory would be a constructive step.
If there were an agreement on borders, then there would be no more controversy about settlements, because everybody would know what side of the border is for Palestine and what side is for Israel.
"So I think that there is no shortcut to this. We have to urge the parties to put aside their reluctance or their distrust and begin the hard work of negotiating. And you know, Egypt, the United States, the Quartet, everyone will stand prepared to put pressure on both sides to try to move toward a settlement of the outstanding issues".
Recent developments in the Middle East such as the storming of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, in which a group of Egyptian protesters broke into the embassy compound and led to American intervention to safely extract six Israeli security officials inside, have been of concern to the United States, which has been lobbying much of the world in recent weeks against a Palestinian bid for recognition as a state and UN membership. Egypt, which under ousted president Hosni Mubarak often played a key mediation role between the two sides, has come out determinedly for the Palestinian bid over fierce Israeli opposition.
And with elections in the United States around the corner, Washington's challenge is only likely to get more difficult. At stake is American influence in a crucial geopolitical space linking North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. Also in question is how the U.S. projects power in a part of the world where al-Qaida and other Islamist extremists still pose a threat to the United States, and where the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to hamper American relations with Arab countries.
Among American officials, the early hopes of a triumph for democracy and rule of law after Mubarak's February ouster, alongside a continuum of U.S.-Egyptian cooperation, have slipped somewhat amid the increasingly worrying signs: the apparent chaos in the Israeli embassy storming, the arrests of demonstrators and bloggers, the extension of the Mubarak-era emergency law empowering authorities to detain people without charge and stamp out strikes and demonstrations.
The vote for Egypt's legislative People's Assembly starts November 28 and the less powerful Shura Council on January 29, with both parliamentary houses to begin their session in March. And well-organized Islamist parties could make significant gains, with the hardline Muslim Brotherhood likely to parlay any new power into a far tougher line on cooperation with the United States and Israel.
While any new government would likely honor the 1979 accords with Israel, the result may be one closer to cold peace than regional partnership. Neither the remnants of the old regime nor youth-driven secular groups are keen to assume the banner of Mubarak's unpopular legacy or ignore the voices on the streets which mobilized so forcefully against Mubarak.
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