Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak left for Washington on Saturday for his first visit to the American capital in five years. In a meeting on Tuesday, the 81-year-old leader is expected to propose to President Barack Obama that he quickly make public his comprehensive peace initiative and not wait for Israel's decision on the settlements.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said that Mubarak will be able to influence the American peace plan, as well as the way the negotiations are carried out.
In an interview with the state-run daily Al-Ahram, Aboul Gheit detailed Egypt's position that Israel should immediately freeze construction in the settlements and restore conditions in the West Bank to those before the second intifada, which means pulling back the Israel Defense Forces. He said U.S. special envoy George Mitchell should continue his regular visits to the region with the aim of establishing a firm timetable for completing negotiations.
For their part, the Americans have asked Mubarak to continue his efforts to reconcile Fatah and Hamas with the aim of establishing a Palestinian unity government. Reports from Egypt suggest that an Egyptian mission is due to travel to Damascus for talks on Palestinian reconciliation.
Egypt's initial reaction to the news that Qatar and Oman would allow Israel to resume a diplomatic presence in their territory if settlement construction stops came with Aboul Gheit's comment that Cairo objects to the U.S. position on normalization.
"We do not think that Israel needs encouragement in the form of steps toward normalization," Aboul Gheit said. "Our position is that because there is no trust in Israel, it must first take serious steps that will then be followed by these encouragement measures."
The Egyptian foreign minister has made it clear that the issue is not merely a West Bank settlement freeze but also construction in Jerusalem. He described the city as "part of occupied Palestinian land."
Mubarak turned down invitations by former President George W. Bush during the past five years because of U.S. policy in Iraq, and mostly because of the Bush administration's pressure on the Egyptian regime on human-rights issues.
After Obama's conciliatory speeches to the Muslim and Arab world, Mubarak changed his policy. It also helped that Mubarak recognized that at this stage the Obama administration does not intend to press Egypt on human rights.
Mubarak will seek clarifications from Obama on his policy toward Iran and the nature of the dialogue with the Islamic Republic. Egypt does not oppose Iran's acquiring of nuclear technology if it does not produce nuclear weapons. The Egyptian leader intends to make clear that Cairo's policy on Iran's nuclear program is the same as toward Israel: Egypt favors a nuclear free Middle East.
Cairo is concerned that Obama will offer Iran a political status that will make it a major player in the Middle East.
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