Panetta visits Cairo, calls on Egypt to release Grapel

US defense secretary says he's confident Cairo will be fair; thanks Egypt’s interim ruler for help in handling mob attack on Israeli embassy.

By OREN KESSLER,
October 5, 2011 02:26
2 minute read.
US Defense Secretary Panetta, Egyptian Maj.-Gen.

US Defense Secretary Panetta, Egyptian Maj.-Gen. Rouini 311R. (photo credit: Win McNamee/Pool/Reuters)

 
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US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called on Egypt on Tuesday to release 27-year-old US-Israeli dual citizen Ilan Grapel, who was detained in June on charges of spying for Israel.

Israel and Grapel’s family have categorically denied he is a spy.

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“We have expressed concern about his treatment and have urged that ultimately he be released. And we raised that issue today... in discussions,” Panetta told reporters in Cairo.

“We’re confident that ultimately the Egyptian government will deal with that fairly,” he said, adding he was not involved in direct negotiations involving the imprisoned Grapel.

Egyptian security also denied there were any negotiations over his potential release.

Speaking to reporters on Monday in Tel Aviv, Panetta said, “We have made our concerns known to Egypt about holding that individual and we would hope that... they will take steps to release that individual.”

Panetta’s visit to the Arab world’s most populous country followed speculation by Egyptian and Israeli media over Grapel’s possible release. There had been speculation that Grapel would be released on Tuesday and would return to the US together with Panetta.

Israeli defense officials refused to comment on reports that the release would take several more days and said that the US was spearheading efforts to release Grapel. On Tuesday night, Channel 2 reported that Odeh Tarabin, an Israeli Bedouin, might also be released together with Grapel.

Egypt’s official news agency reported on Saturday that Cairo is considering granting Grapel’s release in return for “political and economic support” from Washington. The report said Grapel’s parents were allowed to visit him that day for the first time, along with US consul-general to Egypt Robert Powers.

Egypt’s Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported that the initiative was the work of US Senator Gary Ackerman, who had called for Grapel to be freed in return for increased US aid to Cairo. Grapel interned for Ackerman, whose office is near the former’s home in Queens, in the summer of 2002.

Before arriving in Egypt, the US defense secretary said he hoped to “reaffirm our security relationship with Egypt” and that he encouraged Egypt’s military rulers to move ahead with the election process.

Egypt’s parliamentary polls will start on November 28, beginning the process of handing power to civilians after former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted on February 11 in a popular uprising.

While visiting the country, Panetta also discussed regional security, including tensions between Egypt and Israel. Egypt became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and has received billions of dollars in US aid since then.

In September, Israel flew its ambassador to Egypt back home after protesters stormed the embassy building in anger over a border clash that killed several Egyptian guards in August.

The incident raised concerns about Cairo’s future commitment to its longstanding peace agreement with the Jewish state.

Panetta said he thanked Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, who heads the military council ruling Egypt, for moving quickly to help the besieged embassy.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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