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Al Ahram Weekly
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi heads to Washington next week for a series of important meetings with US officials, Congress members and representatives of the business community. The most significant meeting will be held with US counterpart, Donald Trump, at the White House on 9 April.
Besides holding detailed discussions on strategic military and economic relations between the two countries, the Egyptian leader will likely brief Trump on the decisions of the Arab League Summit that concluded in Tunis on Sunday.
Despite sharing the same view on several key challenges facing the Middle East region, topped with confronting the threat of terrorism, Al-Sisi will convey the joint Arab view in opposition to Trump’s recent decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over Syria’s occupied Golan Heights. Coming a year after a similar decision to recognise Israel’s control over occupied East Jerusalem, the Egyptian leader will warn of the consequences of such unilateral US decisions on any possible hope to revive the long-stalled Middle East peace process.
In his speech in front of the Arab Summit, Al-Sisi stressed that there is no way out of the Arab-Israeli conflict except through reaching a just and comprehensive peaceful solution that returns the rights of the Palestinian people, namely their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
In recent weeks, Egypt confirmed that it views peace as a strategic interest, working hard with both Hamas and Israel to avoid an escalation of military confrontation in the Gaza Strip. Hopefully, the success of Egyptian efforts will be the first step towards easing the tough economic conditions that more than two million Palestinian people suffer in Gaza.
The Egyptian leader said the Arabs have chosen peace and their hands are still stretched out for a comprehensive and just settlement, based on international law and UN Security Council resolutions.
Without commitment to international law that prohibits the occupation of land by force in case of any armed conflict, true peace will not become a reality. Disregarding scores of UN resolutions that confirm that Israel must withdraw from occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories will end, once and for all, any confidence in the chance to reach a just settlement.
Terrorist groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda gained a major propaganda tool after recent US decisions on occupied East Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan. Thus, instead of concentrating on an all-out confrontation against all forms of terrorism, and seeking a better understanding between the Arab world and the United States, Trump’s recent decision on Syria’s Golan Heights creates needless tension in an already volatile region that’s not short of troubles.
While in Washington, Al-Sisi will also call for a prompt move within the framework of the Geneva peace talks to end the war in Syria. After the recent defeat of IS, it is high time the Syrian bloodletting stopped. Restoring the unity of Syrian territory and proceeding with reconstruction will be the only way to counter the negative regional influence by both Iran and Turkey, another joint Egyptian-American interest.
Egyptian-American cooperation is also vital to achieve stability in neighbouring Libya. Like Syria, Libya faces the dangers of division and terrorism that threaten the national state and its institutions. In both countries, foreign terrorists serving the interests of regional powers also pose a major obstacle to any effort to restore stability.
While in Washington, Al-Sisi will also be able to explain Egypt’s success story in reforming its economy, despite all existing difficulties and regional instability. In this respect, US-Egyptian cooperation is vital, not in terms of economic assistance, but more through attracting US investment and opening American markets for Egyptian exports.
Al-Sisi and Trump have built a successful working relationship since the US president took office more than two years ago. Hopefully, the upcoming visit to Washington will build on existing positive relations to benefit both countries and to serve their joint interests.
There is no better time to reaffirm the strong relation between Egypt and the United States than the 40th anniversary of the Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel that changed the entire dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict and offered a successful model to follow for other Arab nations.
The key premise that turned Camp David into a success was respect for international law and applying the principle of land for peace. If such a premise is followed in Palestinian and Syrian peace negotiations, peace will certainly have a chance.
By: Dina Ezzat
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s scheduled three-day visit to the US capital next week will have Middle East peace as its underlining theme.
According to a White House statement issued during the last week of March, US President Donald Trump will meet Al-Sisi in the Oval Office on 9 April for talks that will cover “developments and shared priorities in the region, including enhancing regional economic integration and addressing ongoing conflicts, and Egypt’s longstanding role as a lynchpin of regional stability”.
According to an Egyptian diplomatic source, this “will of course include the issue of the Trump peace plan that we expect to finally be announced in the coming weeks”.
Al-Sisi’s meeting with Trump will coincide with Israeli elections. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is running against Benny Gatz, a popular former general, though in the assessment of informed Washington and Cairo sources Netanyahu remains the frontrunner, and Trump is expected to unveil the final draft of his administration’s peace plan once the elections are over and a new Israeli government formed.
The same sources agree that during their Oval Office meeting Trump will brief Al-Sisi on the content of the final version of the peace document and that Al-Sisi will confirm his commitment to promoting Middle East peace.
In his statement before the Arab Summit in Tunis on Sunday Al-Sisi reminded participants of the Arab peace initiative first offered in 2002 and said “the Arabs’ hand is still reaching out with and for peace.”
Some Arab leaders who took part in the summit, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have shunned US mediation, insisting Trump was too biased towards Israel to act as a peace broker, though Cairo, according to an Egyptian diplomatic source, is still willing to invite Abbas for talks following Al-Sisi’s return from Washington, to “share and consult on the updates”.
“We will be talking to all parties though we realise it is a very difficult situation,” said the Egyptian diplomatic source. He added that whatever the “possible shortcomings of the Trump deal it is better to try to get something than have nothing.
“We need to start at some point and then try to improve the terms of the deal as we go along. That’s how peace deals are done.”
President Al-Sisi is also expected to attend a ceremony at the US Congress to honour late president Anwar Al-Sadat on the 40th anniversary of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty which Sadat signed with the then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin at the White House on 26 March 1979.
Sadat family members, and probably his widow Jihan, will be present for the ceremony and the posthumous award of a Congressional Gold Medal.
A congressional delegation visited Cairo in February to invite Al-Sisi to take part in the ceremony though, according to the Egyptian diplomatic source, President Al-Sisi only agreed to attend the event after “it was confirmed that his schedule and that of President Trump would allow for a bilateral meeting to discuss Middle East peace, overall regional developments and bilateral relations.”
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, in Washington to discuss the details of Al-Sisi’s visit, received confirmation that the meeting would go ahead. During his talks in Washington Shoukri also received assurances that Al-Sisi’s presence in Congress will not be overshadowed by any comments made by participating Congressmen on the domestic situation in Egypt.
During his talks in Washington President Al-Sisi will affirm that he is committed to “a process of reform that will be decided by the Egyptian people, including any amendments to the constitution done through parliament”, said the diplomatic source.
While Washington sources do not expect Al-Sisi to face any heckling from Congressmen they do not preclude the issuing of “some statements” reflecting concern over developments in Egypt, though these could well be counter-balanced by praise from other quarters for Al-Sisi’s regional policies, especially in relation to promoting Arab-Israeli peace and encouraging closer cooperation with Israel. There are no plans, as yet, for a joint press conference of the two presidents.
Al-Sisi last met Trump in September on the fringe of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. In April 2017 Trump had received Al-Sisi at the White House in a meeting that officials on both sides described as “cordial”.
Over the last two years Egyptian officials have voiced concerns that relations with the US had not been as positive as Cairo had hoped. They particularly complain about US hesitation over closer economic engagement and expanded military cooperation, and their disappointment was made clear to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his most recent visit to Egypt.
The Sisi-Trump meeting is expected to examine a broad range of regional issues, including the Trump initiative to launch a regional umbrella for American-Arab cooperation bringing together the US, Egypt, Jordan and the six GCC member states.
The Middle East Security Alliance (MESA) is intended to cover military, political and economic cooperation. Officials from the nine countries are still discussing its final framework. Their last meeting took place in Tampa, Florida, in March, and included the chiefs of staff of the nine states.
Developments in Syria will be high on the agenda of the meeting. Egypt has been actively pushing for the re-integration of the Syrian regime in the Arab League.
According to the Egyptian diplomatic source, during meetings in Cairo in March, with King Abdullah of Jordan and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi, Al-Sisi discussed the possibilities of re-admitting Syria to the Arab League. Both leaders were in favour, as is Tunisia, the current chair of the Arab Summit.
Al-Sisi is expected to brief the US administration of the outcome of these talks while in Washington in the hope of reducing US opposition to the rehabilitation of Bashar Al-Asssad.
Libya is also likely to feature on the agenda of the Sisi-Trump talks. According to the same Egyptian diplomatic source during his talks in Cairo in March with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, a leading mediator in the Libya peace talks, Al-Sisi stressed the importance of ensuring a political balance in Libya that does not exaggerate the Islamists’ influence and secures an adequate power share for the military.
“For Egypt, Libya is a crucial front in the war against terrorism, as is Syria,” said the source.
It is inevitable that these issues will be on the agenda of the strategic Egyptian-American dialogue which, the diplomat says, “should regain momentum this year after more than a decade of suspension”.
Away from the Oval Office and Congress, Al-Sisi is expected to attend a gala dinner in Washington hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce where he will make a brief statement to encourage US investments in Egypt.