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Friday, January 5, 2007

Olmert meets Mubarak in Egypt

Olmert meets Mubarak in Egypt

In a frosty and uncomfortable atmosphere, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met on Thursday evening at the Northern Peak Resort in Sharm e-Sheikh. Mubarak made no statement on progress over the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, expressed confidence in his country's efforts to stem the smuggling of arms into Gaza and failed to criticize the firing of Kassams on southern Israel, saying this was the work of "only one or two people."

The atmosphere and the statements made by the two leaders at their press conference gave the impression that very little, if anything at all, had been achieved in their talks.

Notably, during the press conference that followed their meeting, neither leader went out of his way to compliment his colleague. Olmert did thank his host for the talks, but there was no echo of the praise he had lavished on Mubarak's statesmanship at their last meeting in June.

An IDF operation in Ramallah earlier in the day, in which four Palestinians were killed, evidently cast a pall over the meeting. Mubarak chose to open his statement at the press conference with a denunciation of the raid, "which hinders our efforts to achieve peace."

He went on to term the talks "frank and constructive" but did not report any progress in the Egyptian-brokered negotiations for an exchange involving the release of Shalit and Palestinian prisoners.

He concluded his statement, which had been prepared in a written text, with another criticism of the Ramallah operation.

Olmert thanked Mubarak for "Egypt's special effort" in trying to bring about the release of Shalit, but he also offered no news of progress. Olmert said he had expressed his concern over the continued smuggling of arms through the Philadelphi Corridor and added that he knew "these issues concern the president" and was "sure that Egypt is making a special effort to stop" the smuggling.

In answer to a question, Mubarak said that the money transfers to Hamas were being blocked because they are against Egyptian law and "we are not going to have any other law here." He added that "we are not allowing any arms to go through" but also noted that the border could not be hermetically sealed.

Olmert expressed regret "if innocent people have been hurt in Ramallah. But we must remember that Israel must take steps to stop terrorists, and the operation today was to stop terrorists who had killed innocent Israelis."

Several times during the conference, the leaders cut each other off or butted in on what the other was saying. Mubarak also impatiently cut off an Israeli journalist trying to ask an additional question.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office had said before the meeting that Israel had responded positively to an Egyptian idea to convene a regional summit of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. But Mubarak, when asked about the initiative, said only that the "prime minister proposed some time ago that after a deal to free the Palestinian prisoners and Gilad Shalit has been reached, we should organize such a summit."

Olmert repeatedly said during the press conference that Israel continues to adhere to the cease-fire reached with the Palestinian Authority and blamed Hamas and other terrorist organizations for repeatedly violating it.

Olmert was asked by an Egyptian reporter about his interview with German television in which he had included Israel in the "nuclear club." "How," the reporter inquired, "did that tally with his declarations of peace?"

Olmert answered that "What I said in Germany is that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the region. As everybody knows, the country that is threatening to introduce nuclear weapons and use them is Iran. And many countries have reason to be worried by these intentions, including Israel and Egypt."

For his part, Mubarak called for an agreement on a nuclear-free Middle East.

The entire visit, from the moment the prime minister's chartered plane landed on Egyptian soil, up to take-off back to Israel, lasted barely four hours and took place with little fanfare. Even the official dinner after the press conference was kept markedly brief.

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