Egypt official: 'PM, Mubarak to discuss threats'

Egyptian official tells 'Post' leaders will discuss issues of Iran, threat of extremism and Schalit.

mubarak netanyahu 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
mubarak netanyahu 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will discuss major threats facing the region and their overall vision for the Middle East during their planned meeting in Egypt, which will likely take place next week, an Egyptian official said on Sunday. The two men are expected to discuss a range of topics including Iran, the threat of extremism, "how to work together to bring peace and stability to the region," and negotiations over captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, the official told The Jerusalem Post on the condition of anonymity. "We would like to see if there is anything new concerning the Israeli vision about Gilad Schalit," he said. As for a possible Israeli air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, "We think sanctions are a better option; we don't prefer the military option right now," the official said. Containing Shi'ite Iran's influence in the region and its nuclear capabilities are top concerns for many US-backed Sunni Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. An Israeli government official confirmed that Netanyahu would meet with Mubarak, and then go to Washington to meet with US President Barack Obama. Netanyahu's talks with Mubarak - the first Arab leader he will meet since taking office on March 31 - "demonstrates the importance we attach to our relationships with Egypt and the more pragmatic Arab countries," an Israeli official said. Mubarak will also be meeting with Obama later this month, where he will discuss "boosting regional peace" via the Palestinian and Syrian tracks, the Egyptian official said. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates departed on Sunday for talks in Egypt and Saudi Arabia focused on "regional security" and Middle East peace efforts, a Pentagon official told reporters on Sunday, according to AFP. Gates is expected to discuss US assistance to Cairo as it attempts to stem smuggling through tunnels under its border with the Gaza Strip, the official said. Egypt is "expending its utmost efforts" to stop any kind of smuggling because it "understands that this is [an issue of] Egyptian national security," the Egyptian official said. Advanced American tunnel-detection equipment worth more than $30 million was now in use at the border, he said. Egypt has recently intensified its security presence in the border town of Rafah, setting up checkpoints and dirt roadblocks to reign in smuggling into Gaza, the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported on Sunday. About 500 policemen, including plainclothes officers, have been deployed in the city and on dirt tracks and side roads leading to the border, it said. The increased security has led to heightened tension between smugglers and security officials, and in several incidents the former fired in the air when stopped by police. Egypt is also doing its utmost to maintain stability between Israel and factions in the Gaza Strip in the wake of renewed attacks into Israel, the Egyptian official told the Post. "We call for both parties to refrain from any hostilities," the official said, adding that Cairo had talked to both Israeli and Palestinian officials following the firing of mortars from Gaza in recent days and the bombing of tunnels by Israel that were believed to be used to smuggle arms. Meanwhile, an Egyptian weekly is reporting that Cairo still expects a conciliatory statement from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman before it will work with him, according to an unidentified Egyptian diplomat. "If he could make a decent statement to amend the statements he had made before... then we could be working with him to serve the prospects of peace," the diplomat was quoted as saying in the English-language Al-Ahram newspaper. According to the diplomat, Lieberman promised intelligence chief Omar Suleiman last week that he would make an appropriate conciliatory statement. That statement could not be verified by the Post, however. Suleiman met with Lieberman on Wednesday despite declarations from Lieberman's Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, earlier this month that Cairo would not deal with him nor would he be welcome until his positions changed. According to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Lieberman "expressed his respect and appreciation for Egypt's Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman" during the meeting. The Israel Beiteinu leader has angered Cairo by criticizing Mubarak for never visiting Israel, except for prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in 1995, saying last fall that he could "go to hell." He also once said Israel could attack the Aswan Dam in the event of war with Egypt. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.