FM to Morsy: Peace is not an abstraction, come visit

Liberman praises Egyptian president's stated commitment to upholding treaty, but warns that peace is more than just talk.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Peace is more than just expressing a willingness to abide by international treaties, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday, even as he positively noted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy’s stated willingness to respect the Camp David accord.
Liberman, during a speech at a Tel Aviv legal conference, called on Morsy to host Israeli representatives, agree to be interviewed by the Israeli media and visit Israel.
The foreign minister’s comments were in response to an interview Morsy granted Reuters Monday, saying he would abide by all international treaties, including the Egypt-Israel peace accord.
This was the Islamist president’s first interview with an international news organization, and was carried out on the eve of his visit to China and Iran.
“Egypt is now a civilian state... a national, democratic, constitutional, modern state,” he said. “International relations between all states are open and the basis for all relations is balance. We are not against anyone but we are for achieving our interests,” said the American-educated engineer, appearing confident and assertive in the marble-lined presidential palace.
Morsy, who refrained throughout the interview from mentioning Israel by name, indicated it had nothing to fear from a new military campaign in the Sinai Peninsula, which he ordered after terrorists attacked an Egyptian border post earlier this month, killed 16 guards and tried to burst across the frontier into Israel.
“Egypt is practicing its very normal role on its soil and does not threaten anyone, and there should not be any kind of international or regional concerns at all from the presence of Egyptian security forces,” he said, referring to the extra weaponry, police, army and other forces moved to the area.
The military campaign was in “full respect to international treaties,” he said. The Egypt- Israel peace deal includes strict limits on Egyptian military deployment in Sinai, and Israeli officials complained earlier this month that Egypt was moving weaponry and forces into Sinai without Israeli approval as designated in the treaty.
Morsy would not say if he would meet Israeli officials.
Deposed president Hosni Mubarak regularly received top officials, although he only went to Israel once as president, for the funeral of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Liberman, in Israel’s only formal reaction to Morsy’s comments, said he was “happy to hear” the new president talk about “Egypt’s commitment to peace with Israel, to the Camp David treaty and the struggle against terrorism. That is a very important message.” But, the foreign minister continued, anyone talking about peace and security needs to understand that this cannot just be something theoretical and abstract. “Peace also has tangible expressions,” he said. “Peace is not a telepathic connection.”
Therefore, he added, “we hope to see President Morsy host official Israeli representatives; we want to see him give interviews to the Israeli press, and we want to see him in Jerusalem as the guest of President [Shimon] Peres.”
Liberman made it a point in his speech to note the role the US has played in maintaining equilibrium in Israeli-Egyptian ties during the current sensitive time.
“We need to thank our friend the US, which over the recent period – a very sensitive time – did very important, even critical, work,” he said. In addition to passing messages between the sides, the United States also acted as a “shock absorber” during this rocky period.
“If there is regular communication between Israel and Egypt, the US has a large role in that,” Liberman said. Diplomatic officials said that the US Embassy in Cairo played an essential role over the last few months, and has been in very close contact with the Israeli Embassy in Egypt.
Morsy’s emphasis on “balance” during his interview, as well as his choice of China as his first destination outside of the region, suggest to some that he is seeking a less explicitly pro-American role in the region. In an effort to increase Egypt’s role in regional affairs, he has called for dialogue between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran to find a way to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
Notably, the initiative has been welcomed by Iran, the only country in the group that supports Syrian President Bashar Assad.
During his interview, Morsy gave a particularly strong call for Assad to be removed from power, suggesting that he is comfortable taking a high profile role in regional affairs. It is a message he will take on his trip to Iran and China, which along with Russia, are the main countries backing Assad.
“Now is the time to stop this bloodshed, and for the Syrian people to regain their full rights, and for this regime that kills its people to disappear from the scene,” Morsy said.
“There is no room to talk about reform, but the discussion is about change,” Morsy said, adding Egypt had repeated that “the friends of the Syrian people in China and Russia and other states” need to back ordinary Syrians. However, Morsy said he opposed foreign military action in Syria “in any form.”
In what could be an important sign of a shift in the region, Morsy’s visit to Iran this week will be the first by an Egyptian leader since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations at the time over Egypt’s support for the ousted Iranian Shah and its peace with Israel, and have yet to formally restore ties.
Officially, Morsy’s visit is to attend the summit of the 120- nation Non-Aligned Movement, and he would not be drawn into whether Egypt would resume full diplomatic ties with Iran.
Asked whether he saw a threat from Iran, Morsy said: “We see that all the countries in the region need stability and peaceful coexistence with each other. This cannot be achieved with wars but through political work and special relations between the countries of the region.”
After Iran, Morsy will travel in September to the US, which still gives the Egyptian military $1.3 billion in aid a year.