Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- In an interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has denied allegations that Cairo agreed with Washington and Tel Aviv to topple the Hamas government in Palestine. He stressed that Cairo has not and will not engage in the policy of incitement against the Hamas movement.
During the interview with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Aboul Gheit stated firmly that Egypt is aware of its rights and responsibilities, and will not allow anyone to outbid it. He said the international community and the international Quartet are continuously calling for increased efforts for peace and the resumption of negotiations. He adds that for peace talks to resume there are main requirements to which the two sides must comply, namely the agreements that have been concluded in the past. With reference to Hamas, Aboul Gheit said, “I would like to remind everyone that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized Israel 16 years ago and signed an agreement with it in September 1993. There must be no withdrawal from those agreements, and Egypt will not side with those who seek to turn the clock back, because that would harm the Palestinian people.”
Aboul Gheit revealed that he would participate in the next meeting of the Quartet scheduled for 9 May 2006, and would present the Egyptian viewpoint. The meeting will also be attended by the Jordanian foreign minister. Aboul Gheit stressed the importance of a statement that would be issued at the end of the meeting, and he referred to the need to take the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on their land into consideration.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister stressed that the situation in the region calls for the commencement of negotiations between the various sides, an end to mutual violence, shunning unilateral actions, the need to resume financial assistance to the Palestinian people, support for the road map and calling on the Palestinian and Israeli sides to adhere to it, and support for the Arab peace plan, which talks about land-for-peace.
Aboul Gheit asked Israel once again to be committed to a return to the 1967 borders and to the withdrawal from all the occupied territories, as well as to provide an opportunity to withdraw from East Jerusalem and to establish a Palestinian state within secure and recognized borders for both sides. He stressed that this is the Egyptian stand.
Asked about why some banks in Egypt have stopped receiving aid, which social organizations aim to send to the Palestinian people, Aboul Gheit said, “People should ask why banks in the occupied territories have refused all transfers.” He stated that those banks refuse to receive any transfers for the Palestinians from abroad because that would place them on the West’s boycott lists.
In response to a question concerning Egyptian support for the Palestinian people, especially after the Palestinian finance and health ministers appealed for the Arab League’s help, the Egyptian foreign minister said, “Egypt has provided thousands of tons of food and medicine in the course of two months, and there are trucks that carry such assistance through the Rafah crossing. We could not possibly refrain from giving to the struggling and steadfast Palestinian people who are resisting the Israeli occupation.
Asked about the repercussions of the Iranian nuclear file in light of the Egyptian initiative for the Middle East to be free of weapons of mass destruction, and the ways of starting that initiative, Aboul Gheit said that the Egyptian initiative takes place through resolutions adopted by the international community and the UN General Assembly. He said that over the past 32 years, Egypt together with Iran put forward the idea of establishing a nuclear-free zone in the region. Furthermore, Egypt as well as others, believes in all the clauses of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), particularly as one of the clauses states the right to the peaceful use of atomic energy for all members. The Foreign Minister stated that the real problem that faces the international community is that the IAEA rather than Egypt has doubts about the substance, contents, and inclinations of the Iranian nuclear program and its claim of a peaceful program. He believes that ultimately, a comprehensive agreement has to be reached within a peaceful framework, and an agreement has to be reached on the mutual reduction of conventional arms capability and getting rid of all weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Asked if Egypt would take measures with the international community to begin its initiative regarding clearing the region of weapons of mass destruction, Aboul Gheit said, “We have been very active and have spoken at all UN General Assembly sessions and IAEA conferences. We have been proposing such resolutions every year, and we have been participating in the work of IAEA and NPT conferences. The Egyptian stands are well-known, active and enjoy international support. The UN General Assembly has adopted resolutions that reflect such inclinations, and there are many messages pertaining to Israeli nuclear armament and its threats.”
Asked about Turkey’s announcement of its wish to engage in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Aboul Gheit said, “Turkey is entitled to do so because it is talking about the peaceful use of atomic energy, and there are many guarantees and international rules that govern such uses. One can refer to the additional protocols and rules that regulate that, which are applied within the IAEA framework.”
Asked if Egypt has overcome the repercussions of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s remarks about the allegiance of Iraq’s Shiites to Iran, and whether that affects the Egyptian role in Iraq, the Egyptian foreign minister said, “President Hosni Mubarak’s statement has been clarified and there is no problem in that regard. We have overcome the matter and it has been resolved in Iraq. Egypt has a role in Iraq and it actively deals with Iraq by continuing its consultations and providing support, and continuing to train Iraqi personnel in Egypt in various fields. Everything is open to discussion. There is no boycott, and all that we insist on is the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador to Iraq when there is security and stability so that what happened before (referring to the murder of the former Egyptian ambassador to Iraq) does not happen again.
Asked about the effect of the Syrian-Lebanese dossier on Egyptian national security, Aboul Gheit said that the Egyptian stand has been and continues to create a positive climate between Syria and Lebanon, which would allow the Lebanese to resolve any particular problems between them leading to stability and distancing them from any dangers. Finally, the truth about the assassination of (former) Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri must be established and the perpetrators of the crime must be revealed.
Concerning the reaction of the Lebanese opposition to the Egyptian-Saudi initiative, the Egyptian minister said, “There was no initiative, but just an Egyptian-Saudi effort to achieve a Lebanese-Syrian accord. The past few months have revealed a great measure of rationality in the way those sides have dealt with each other.”
Asked about Egypt’s international contribution to combating terrorism, especially after the bombings in Dahab in the Sinai Peninsula, Aboul Gheith said, “Egypt has called for a one-off meeting of the UN General Assembly to discuss the international fight against terrorism. We are seeking to reach an agreement on combating terrorism, and we are presently continuing consultations with the sides that have reservations on the matter.”
Regarding the issues put forward to the World Economic Forum (Davos meeting), the Egyptian Foreign Minister stated, “The conference will be held between the 20th and 22nd May 2006 in Sharm Al Sheikh and over 1,300 senior officials and government leaders from various parts of the world will participate in the conference. There will also be a large number of representatives of business and investment circles, and they will discuss numerous political, economic, and cultural issues that are of interest to international circles and which need to be discussed on the international level.”
Aboul Gheit said that the agenda includes the following four points:
1. The political and security dossier: peace in the Middle East, the situation in Iraq and Iran, developments in the Arab World, the role of the United States in the region, and an assessment of interaction of the European role with existing regional problems will all be discussed within the framework of that dossier.
2. The economic dossier and all its ramifications and concerns.
3. The rule of law and democracy: In this regard, the conference will discuss the trends toward political reform, the empowerment of women, and internal political conditions in Israel.
4. The challenges of unemployment and immigration: the conditions of Arab immigrants in Europe will be discussed.
Asked about what some people have said regarding the presidency withdrawing basic dossiers and their management from the Egyptian foreign ministry, Aboul Gheit said, “Such talk has been repeated a number of times, and does not even deserve an answer. When the matter is linked to fighting, borders, entry and exit points, and security, such issues are not within the competence of the foreign ministry. We believe that is normal, and anyone who claims otherwise should refer to the dossier of the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency when he used to handle such issues, especially those connected to security, borders, fighting, and other matters.”