PM wins critical Egyptian support for Annapolis

"I hope summit succeeds," Mubarak declares.

Olmert mubarak 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert mubarak 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
SHARM E-SHEIKH - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left Sharm e-Sheikh on Tuesday with key and heretofore elusive public Egyptian support for the upcoming Annapolis meeting, as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak declared he hoped the summit would "succeed." Mubarak's endorsement, which came on the same day that the US sent out invitations for next Tuesday's gathering, is considered key in Jerusalem to getting other Arab countries to back the event. His support is also deemed important in keeping the Arab League from endorsing strident language at a meeting on the Annapolis conference that will be held by 12 Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Thursday. "I hope for the success of the international conference that will bring about the beginning of serious negotiations to deal with all the issues involved in a final agreement," Mubarak said at a press conference with Olmert following an hour-long private meeting. After the press conference, the two leaders were joined by their advisers for lunch. Mubarak's comments were the strongest Egyptian statement to date in favor of the Annapolis process, as Egypt in the past has publicly warned against a meeting devoid of content that would be little more than a "photo opportunity." Mubarak, however, made clear that he expected the negotiations launched at the Annapolis meeting to conclude within a set period of time and include a mechanism for implementation. Olmert reiterated that he hoped to conclude an agreement with the Palestinians by the end of 2008, but said that both Israel and the US were in agreement that implementation of the deal would only take place once the Palestinians fulfilled their requirements under the road map to fight terrorism. And this must be done in Gaza as well as the West Bank, he said. The prime minister thanked Mubarak for his support and for what he was doing "to ensure that the meeting will be widely supported by influential players in the region and in the world." During the meeting, the two leaders discussed the participation of Saudi Arabia and Syria at the Annapolis meeting, and after the press conference, Mubarak said Syria would attend. Over the last few weeks, Egypt has sought assurances from Israel that all the sensitive issues - including Jerusalem, the refugees, borders and settlements - would be on the negotiating table after the Annapolis meeting, something Olmert said would be the case. "I want it to be clear to the entire Arab world," Olmert said, "that negotiations will take place on all the fundamental issues that need to be dealt with in order to reach the vision of two states. We will not avoid any problem or pass over any issue that is bothering the Palestinians." At the same time, he said, Israel will not let the Palestinians avoid dealing with the security issue, which is critical to Israel. Olmert, who began his comments by mentioning the Monday evening murder of Ido Zoldan, said that Israel didn't want a mere declaration of a war on terrorism from the Palestinians, "but rather a war on terrorism." Olmert, who was full of praise for Mubarak during the press conference - at one time calling him one of the most important leaders in the world - said that in addition to discussing Annapolis, they had also discussed "security issues that bother Israel," a reference to the ongoing smuggling of terrorists and weapons into Gaza from Sinai. He said Egypt and Israel had "established new joint operating procedures" to fight the smuggling. An Israeli government source said the idea was to put together a new coordinating mechanism that would enable the more rapid transfer of intelligence from Israel to the Egyptians so they could act more swiftly on the ground. Nevertheless, Mubarak dismissed allegations that Egypt was not doing enough to combat the smuggling. "In the past year, we destroyed 236 tunnels and confiscated a large quantity of weapons," he said at the press conference. Mubarak said that Egypt had no interest in the smuggling, and that "if there is information that smuggling is taking place, please give it to us and we will catch them." Mubarak also dodged a question about why he refused to visit Israel by saying that there was no problem with such a visit, and that if it would bring peace with the Palestinians, he would make the trip to Israel.