Mubarak to visit Washington, meet with Obama, American Jewish leaders

Egypt hoping trip will allow for resumption of strategic dialogue with US.

obama mubarak cairo 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
obama mubarak cairo 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is set to begin his first Washington visit in half a decade this week as he seeks to reset US-Egypt relations and put the years of discord under the Bush administration firmly in the past. Mubarak has a meeting scheduled with Jewish leaders Monday, where he is slated to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the threat of Iran, before discussing these and other topics with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday. The intra-Palestinian situation is expected to be a particular focus, as Hamas has been reevaluating its relationship with Fatah after the latter's recent Congress brought in several new leaders. Egypt has been crucial in unity talks between the two parties which until now have not succeeded. The two countries will also be trading notes on Iran, as the US reviews its outreach policy following the disputed Iranian elections, even as a deadline for Iran to take up America's offer for engagement looms next month. Egypt is looking to resume its strategic dialogue with the US as part of the visit. The Obama administration has already indicated it is seeking to reinvigorate the relationship with Egypt, as Obama chose Cairo as the destination for his long-anticipated address to the Arab world in June and met with Mubarak there. Moreover the Egyptians have been eager to take advantage of a new face in the White House to reengage with Washington, indicating that they have turned over a new page. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram reported this week that "A press statement issued this week by the Foreign Ministry squarely blamed the tensions that have marred recent relations between Cairo and Washington on the policies of the Bush administration. Egyptian officials now hope that the worst is over, and bilateral ties can be placed on a new footing." The US is also eager to count Egypt as an ally in shaping its Middle East agenda, as it has a peace treaty with Israel and shares strategic concerns about the role of Iran and its proxies. The Al-Ahram story also quoted an Egyptian official as saying that this was possible because there had been "a significant change" in the kinds of questions now being asked by the US administration about domestic affairs, including democratization, freedom of worship and expression, and "allegations of human rights violations." The official was quoted as saying, "I am not saying that we get no questions. What I am saying is that the aggressive language in which such questions used to be couched has been abandoned." But Middle East expert Tamara Wittes of the Washington-based Saban Center for Middle East Policy warned that Mubarak might be disappointed if expects he won't get any pushback from the administration on these issues. She pointed out that Egypt right now is facing some of its biggest challenges from members of Congress who have expressed "a lot of skepticism about the value of a partnership which is one in which the United States invests $2 billion every year." Several members of Congress have questioned the long-standing aid allocation given Egypt's poor record on human rights, democratization, protection of minority faiths and ending the smuggling into Gaza. Wittes noted that Mubarak will be visiting Washington at a time when Congress isn't in session, so he will be able to sidestep meetings on the Hill in which he could have faced unpleasant questions. Mubarak was originally scheduled to fly to Washington in May on the heels of visits by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinians President Mahmoud Abbas, but that trip was postponed due to the sudden death of Mubarak's grandchild. Wittes noted that trip too was scheduled to coincide with a Congressional recess.