Was Lieberman invited to Egypt? Not quite

Mubarak confirms Netanyahu will travel to Cairo alone, without Lieberman or any other minister.

mubarak 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
mubarak 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Cairo's intelligence chief did not invite Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to come visit when the two officials met in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said Thursday. However, another Egyptian official who attended Omar Suleiman's meeting with Lieberman would not rule out the possibility that an invitation had indeed been extended to the foreign minister, or would be in the near future. "Egypt welcomes any official from any country that respects Egypt and the Egyptian leadership," the second official told The Jerusalem Post. Lieberman "said he respects Egypt and respects the president. Then that's it... this is the basis." The unnamed official called Lieberman's remarks, which apparently stopped short of an apology to Suleiman for past remarks, "a positive development" and a change from his previous statements about Egypt. Following the meeting, sources close to Lieberman told reporters that Suleiman had invited him to Egypt, but Zaki said, "no he did not" in a text message he sent to the Post. Lieberman and his aides would not respond to inquiries about the meeting or reports of an invitation on Thursday. Also, in a rare public statement, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak addressed the issue on Thursday, confirming only that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been invited, and that when he came to Egypt, he would come unaccompanied by any other minister. "The Israeli prime minister might come to us during May... and some say that he will bring with him [Lieberman]... The Israeli prime minister will come alone. The only one who will come with him is the director of his office and no other minister will come with him," Mubarak said, according to Arab press accounts. Officials in Jerusalem noted this is usually the case. Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told Russia Today TV that Cairo would deal with the new Israeli government, but not via Lieberman. He also said Lieberman "will not visit Cairo. He will certainly not visit as long as his positions remain as they are." The Israel Beiteinu chairman angered Cairo by criticizing Mubarak for never visiting Israel, except for the 1995 funeral of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, saying last October that Mubarak could "go to hell." He also once said Israel could attack the Aswan Dam in the event of a war with Egypt. Experts note that the confusion about whether Lieberman did receive an invitation by Suleiman might stem from differences of opinion - and perhaps even a power struggle of sorts - between the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, headed by Gheit, and Suleiman's general intelligence services. The ministry, which handles diplomatic affairs and the embassy, has taken a harsher stance toward Lieberman, while Suleiman, who is responsible for security issues involving Israel and the peace process, has taken a softer attitude vis-a-vis the Jewish state. The conflict has less to do with Israel and more to do with the issue of control: who will be closer to the president and who will have greater effect on decision making, Israeli experts say. This struggle was recently evident when Gheit and Suleiman traveled together to Khartoum because they had difficulty deciding who would deal with the issue of Sudan. However, Zaki told the Post earlier this week that there was no such struggle between the two government agencies and characterized such claims as "nonsense." Other officials insisted since there was one president, all government bodies "speak with one voice." Egyptian officials described Suleiman's talks with Israel's top leaders on Wednesday as friendly and generally positive, with both sides listening to one another. The Israeli government discussed its vision for the region, "which is still not concrete" and is in the process of being formulated. The Egyptians also portrayed their vision for the region concerning the peace process, Gaza, the West Bank and Gilad Schalit. Suleiman's visit was an attempt to coordinate their visions, to move together toward the peace process, to promote the two-state solution and to urge the resumption of negotiations as soon as possible, officials said.