Mubarak in White House talks

August 17, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Aug 17 – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is set to meet on Monday with key US government officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ahead of his first White House visit in five years.

Egyptian officials said Mubarak would also hold talks with National Security Advisor James Jones and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, as well as a closed-door meeting with representatives from eight leading US Jewish groups.

Among the Jewish organizations were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – the leading pro-Israel lobby in the United States – J Street and the Anti-Defamation League.

The Egyptian leader is to visit the White House early Tuesday for his first White House talks with President Barack Obama.

The meeting will be the third time in as many months that the pair have met, with Obama stressing early in his term he would make the stalled Middle East peace process a top priority of his administration.

Mubarak’s talks with senior members of the Obama administration are expected to focus on the peace process, Sudan and Iran’s nuclear program, according to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

"The visit now comes at a critical time," Abul Gheit told Al-Ahram newspaper on Saturday, "because the American side is coming closer to announcing its vision on how to achieve peace and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

The foreign minister, who stood in for Mubarak in May when the president withdrew from a planned US visit after the death of his grandson, is also part of the Egyptian delegation for this trip, along with Egypt’s intelligence chief and finance, trade and information ministers.

The talks come as the United States is pressuring Israel to halt settlement activity, but also demanding that Arab countries take further steps toward normalization with the Jewish state.

Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have formally normalized ties with Israel. It also plays a role in efforts to improve relations between the warring Palestinian political factions Hamas and Fatah, and is seeking a truce between Israel and Hamas, who fought a devastating war over the New Year.

Cairo is mediating reconciliation talks between the Western-backed Fatah in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, but so far neither those efforts, nor attempts to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks have made much progress.

With the focus set firmly on common foreign policy concerns, there is likely to be less talk of democracy and political reform in meetings between US officials and Mubarak, a former air force commander who has ruled Egypt since 1981.

US concerns about human rights and democracy soured relations between Mubarak and former president George W. Bush’s administration.

Calls in the United States for cuts to the roughly $1.5 billion in US aid Egypt receives each year were met with anger in Cairo, and Mubarak turned down invitations to Washington towards the end of the administration.

Those tensions seemed to have been swept away with Obama’s election, and the new US president’s decision to give a major speech to the Muslim world in June from Cairo was seen as a new beginning to US-Egyptian relations.


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