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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's office issued a flat denial Saturday night of reports that Cairo has threatened to cut ties with the Foreign Ministry unless Avigdor Lieberman - likely to become the next foreign minister - apologizes for comments he made in the fall about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The reports were "inaccurate," and there was continuous contact through various channels between Lieberman and the Egyptian government with the goal of "continuing the good relations and cooperation between the two countries," Netanyahu's spokesman Yossi Levy said.
The reports were "inaccurate and out of all proportion," Netanyahu's top foreign policy adviser, Uzi Arad, who met with Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda last week at Ramat Gan's Kfar Maccabiah Hotel, where coalition talks are taking place, told The Jerusalem Post from Paris.
According to Channel 2, Reda issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu that if Lieberman did not apologize for comments in the Knesset that insulted Mubarak, Egypt would not work with the Foreign Ministry.
According to the report, the Egyptian envoy said there were three things sacred to the Egyptians: the pyramids, the Aswan Dam, and Mubarak's honor, and that Lieberman had already trampled on two of them.
Speaking at a Knesset memorial session in October marking the seventh anniversary of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi's assassination, Lieberman said, "Time after time our leaders go to meet Mubarak in Egypt, but he has never agreed to come here for an official visit as president.
"Every self-respecting leader would have made those meetings conditional on reciprocity. If he wants to talk to us, he should come here; if he doesn't want to come here, he can go to hell."
A few years ago Lieberman suggested that in the event of war with Egypt, Israel should destroy the Aswan Dam on the Nile.
Channel 2 reported that the Egyptians asked Netanyahu to work on the language of an apology, and that Israel Beiteinu MK Danny Ayalon, who is expected to be named deputy foreign minister by Lieberman, had begun doing so.
Ayalon, however, said Saturday night there was "nothing" to the story, and that he was not working on any type of apology. He said that in the past few weeks Lieberman had met with senior Egyptian officials, and that the Egyptians have expressed interest in maintaining good ties.
In response to the Channel 2 report, Reda issued a statement saying, "The ambassador feels very sorry that Egypt and its ambassador are being used in matters concerning Israeli internal politics.
"The ambassador is saying that he cannot comment every day on statements or talk from here and there, for Egypt is a country that has a stable policy of not interfering in internal matters of other countries. All that I can say in that regard is that I didn't have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Netanyahu in recent weeks."