In October, Israel Beitienu chair said Mubarak "can go to hell;" official: Cairo will deal with ministry's diplomats.
By BRENDA GAZZAR, HERB KEINON
Egypt will boycott new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman unless he apologizes for insulting statements he has made about the country, an Egyptian official said Wednesday.
When asked how the Egyptian government would deal with Lieberman, the official said, "We're not. He has insulted us before. Now he has to apologize" for past statements he has made.
And if he does not apologize?
"That's it. We will not deal with him," the official told The Jerusalem Post. "Take what I'm telling you as reliable."
Lieberman angered Cairo in October when he said at a special Knesset session that President Hosni Mubarak "can go to hell" if he does not want to come to Israel. (Mubarak has never visited Israel, except for the funeral of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.) Lieberman also once suggested that in the event of war with Egypt, Israel should bomb the Aswan Dam on the Nile.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu) told the Post that the Egyptians were "not demanding an apology."
Ayalon, who was in contact with the Egyptians on Wednesday, said "a very solid foundation has been established for good working relations with the Egyptians. We respect them. They are a leading country in the region, certainly the leader of the Arab world, and we will continue to cooperate with them, and to strengthen the relations for the benefit of stability and progress toward peace and prosperity."
Lieberman tried to get off on the right foot with Cairo Wednesday, praising it as an important stabilizing factor in the region.
Speaking at a welcome ceremony at the Foreign Ministry, Lieberman addressed questions about what to expect regarding the relationship with Egypt with him serving as foreign minister.
"Egypt is certainly an important factor, an important country in the Arab world and a factor in the stability of the regional system and perhaps beyond it," he said, after quipping that Egypt existed during the days of the patriarchs, and continues to exist in the present day as well.
"I will definitely be visiting Egypt, and I will be happy if the Egyptian leaders will visit us here, and the foreign minister of Egypt will visit the Israeli Foreign Ministry," he said. "I certainly respect the other and ask that they respect us, all on the basis of reciprocity."
One senior diplomatic official said Lieberman intentionally used the ceremony on Wednesday to try to clear the air with the Egyptians, and that anyone who knew him knew that he would not likely go beyond that statement in terms of an apology.
Lieberman's comments on Wednesday contrasted with the remark he made in the Knesset in October, at a memorial session marking the seventh anniversary of the assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi, when he 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."
But the Egyptian official said late Wednesday that Lieberman's statement was "not at all" the apology they were seeking.
When asked whether the boycott would extend to the Foreign Ministry, the official replied: "We have no problem with the Foreign Ministry. Those are professional diplomats. We deal with them and they deal with us... [Boycotting Lieberman] is a political statement."
When asked whether the statement had been communicated yet to Lieberman, the Egyptian official said that it had not.
"I think he'll find out," he quipped to a journalist.
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