Egypt won't boycott peace anniversary

Ambassador Reda to attend Hebrew U. seminar, Foreign Ministry reception to mark 30 years of peace.

Egyptian Ambassador Peres 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Egyptian Ambassador Peres 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Egyptian ambassador will attend a Hebrew University seminar and a Foreign Ministry reception on Wednesday marking three decades of peace between the two countries, Egyptian and Israeli officials announced on Sunday, ending days of speculation as to whether Egypt would forgo this week's celebrations. Ambassador Yasser Reda confirmed his participation on Sunday - just three days before the events - to the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general of Middle Eastern Affairs, ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. The Egyptian embassy, which also confirmed the ambassador's attendance, had been waiting for direction from Cairo as to whether to attend, according to Egyptian officials. Israeli diplomatic officials have downplayed press reports suggesting that Cairo may be hesitating in its decision or considering a boycott because of the likelihood that Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman would become the next foreign minister. "There was no question mark," said Amira Oron, director of the Foreign Ministry's Egypt Desk, at a Sunday press conference commemorating the opening of the exhibit "Echoes of Egypt" at Jerusalem's Bible Lands Museum. "It seems that there was much ado about nothing that was inflated in the media. We waited for an answer from the Egyptians, and it was received. And we will be happy to see the ambassador" at the events, she said. On Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki, responding to press reports, told DPA that "we don't have any information suggesting that the ambassador to Israel will boycott the celebrations. Why should he?" Lieberman has angered Cairo by saying last October that if President Hosni Mubarak did not want to visit Israel, he "could go to hell." In addition, Lieberman has suggested that Israel could bomb the Aswan dam in the event of war with Egypt. But Egyptian officials have insisted that Lieberman's appointment was an internal matter with which Cairo would not interfere. They have also noted that it was too early to comment on the issue, since the Israel Beiteinu chairman had yet to become foreign minister. Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Shalom Cohen said it was not unusual for Cairo to take its time in deciding such matters. "Whenever we talk about this kind of cooperation between Israel and Egypt, they don't give an automatic answer. They don't immediately say yes," Cohen, who also attended the Bible Lands Museum exhibit, told The Jerusalem Post. "They need to consult, to think, see how they can do it, to see that they do it right without interfering with another policy of theirs. They decided to come, and I'm very happy about their decision." Egypt, he said, was an Arab country that was in dialogue with 20 other Arab countries, which was taken into consideration in such a decision, he said. "If something happens regarding policy or militarily or regarding an event or another that is not so comfortable, it's possible that they will say, 'No, we will not come,'" he explained. "It's not a boycott. It's simply their policy." Five years ago, Egyptian officials canceled their RSVP to participate in events commemorating 25 years of peace with Israel following an incident in the Palestinian territories. Cohen said he believed that incident was the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza. But Cohen did not think that Lieberman posed a specific consideration for the Egyptians in their decision to attend. "It's a fact that Egypt didn't participate before and Lieberman was not there," he said. "It's a regular issue in Egypt. Whenever we invite them, it takes them some days" to decide. Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement on Sunday saying that close aides of both Lieberman and himself had met with Egyptian officials "to explain to them that the arrival of Lieberman at the Foreign Ministry should not be a reason for tension between the two countries," AFP reported. A Likud source told the Post that the Egyptians had said they might have to present an uproar over Lieberman and show that they were upset, but that the Israelis shouldn't take it too seriously and should put it "in proportion." Another Likud source said Cairo had sought clarification that Lieberman would respect the Egyptian people and their government, in a meeting with Netanyahu's foreign policy adviser, Uzi Arad, last week. "There was no talk of boycotts or threats," the source said. On Saturday night, Netanyahu's office denied reports that Cairo had threatened to cut ties with the Foreign Ministry unless Lieberman apologized for comments about Mubarak. Netanyahu's spokesman called the reports "inaccurate and all out of proportion." According to Channel 2, Reda had 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. Also on Sunday, the director of the Cairo-based al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies said that he would recommend in his writings that "we don't talk to Lieberman" unless he changed his discourse and his attitude. "If he came out with a statement that he believes in the two-state solution and peace with Egypt, of course, that would change a lot of things," Abdel Monem Said Aly told the Post. "If he stays as he is, I don't think there is any basis for dialogue with him. We talked to [prime minister Ariel] Sharon, [prime minister Menachem] Begin, a lot of Israeli extremists, but none of them asked to bombard the [Aswan] dam, spoke badly about our president, considered Egypt an enemy and denounced Egyptian-Israeli peace." Reda is slated to speak on Thursday at the seminar - titled "30 Years Since the Peace Treaty Between Israel and Egypt" - as is Cohen. The seminar, which is open to the public, is being hosted by the Hebrew University's Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. Reda will also be attending a reception on Wednesday evening at the Foreign Ministry with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Egyptian officials said. Gil Hoffman and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.