Cablegate: Codel Baird Meets with Egyptian Leaders On Margins
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHIHL RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #1067/01 1481153
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 271153Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9342
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 001067
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, H
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/20/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV ECON EG
SUBJECT: CODEL BAIRD MEETS WITH EGYPTIAN LEADERS ON MARGINS
Classified by DCM Stuart Jones for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: Codel Baird discussed Egyptian and regional
issues with Egypt's political and business leaders on the
margins of the May 18 - 20 World Economic Forum (WEF) in
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. President Mubarak, Intelligence
Chief Omar Soliman, and presidential son Gamal Mubarak
focused on the need for deep engagement to resolve the
Israeli/Palestinian crisis and to hinder Iran's growing
influence in the region. On Iraq, Mubarak said "you cannot
leave" but advised strengthening the military and allowing a
"fair" dictator to come to power via a coup. "Forget
democracy," he opined, "the Iraqis are too tough by nature."
On the economic side, Egypt's business leaders regretted the
lack of a U.S.-Egypt free trade agreement and asked the U.S.
to push Egypt harder on good governance and democratic
reform. Codel Baird consisted of Representatives Brian Baird
(D-WA), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Jeff
Fortenberry (R-NE), and Jim Cooper (D-TN); Representative
Jane Harman (D-CA) joined the codel briefly on May 18. End
2. (C) The codel began by thanking Mubarak for his positive
leadership on regional issues. Mubarak said that he had
advised Vice President Cheney and other U.S. officials not to
invade Iraq and that "no one listened," but that now "it
would be a mistake" to withdraw forces immediately because it
would further open the door for Iran. Asked about U.S.-Egypt
relations, Mubarak confirmed that "we have very good
relations with the U.S.," but "your administration is not
well-informed." However, "I am patient by nature," he said,
in apparent reference to U.S. criticisms over human rights
and democratization. Congressman Shays encouraged Mubarak
to engage with Iraq as much as possible and asked if Egypt
would send an ambassador, to which Mubarak replied "no, I
cannot do it. When there is stability I am willing, but I
cannot force civilians to go."
3. (C) Asked about Egypt's reaction if Iran developed nuclear
weapons capability, Mubarak said that none will accept a
nuclear Iran, "we are all terrified." Mubarak said that when
he spoke with former Iranian President Khatami he told him to
tell current President Ahmedinejad "not to provoke the
Americans" on the nuclear issue so that the U.S. is not
forced to strike. Mubarak said that Egypt might be forced to
begin its own nuclear weapons program if Iran succeeds in
4. (C) Asked about whether the U.S. should set a timeline for
withdrawal from Iraq, Mubarak said "you cannot leave" because
"you would leave Iran in control." Mubarak explained his
recipe for a way forward: "strengthen the armed forces, relax
your hold, and then you will have a coup. Then we will have
a dictator, but a fair one. Forget democracy, the Iraqis are
by their nature too tough."
5. (C) Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) chief
Omar Soliman gave the codel an expansive evaluation of the
key issues in the region. He focused on Iran's growing
influence in Iraq, with Hamas, with Hizballah in Lebanon, and
with Shia communities in the Gulf. To solve regional
problems Egypt is working on three tracks - Palestine,
Lebanon, and Iraq.
6. (C) Egypt hopes to achieve something soon on the
Palestinian track, he said, but neither side is ready to stop
the vicious circle of violence, although most on both sides
want "quiet." Soliman's job now, he said, is to bridge the
gaps on specific issues like border crossings, prisoner
exchange, and bringing Hamas and the PA back together. He
hoped to see an agreement on borders for a Palestinian state
by the end of 2008, and noted that as a practical matter very
few Palestinian refugees would seek right of return.
7. (C) On Lebanon, speaking a week before the Doha agreement
was penned, Soliman said the three problems are Syria's large
influence, lack of power of the majority over militia forces,
and weak Arab support for the government. Syria is seeking a
deal with Israel and the U.S. over returning the Golan and
canceling the Hariri tribunal to lessen its meddling and
Lebanon needs a strong, nationalist army. Soliman bemoaned
that the Arab states have too poor relations with Syria to
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push them effectively.
8. (C) On Iraq, Egypt meets regularly with Jordan, Saudi
Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, and Turkey to discuss reducing Iranian
influence. The GOI must understand it has support from the
Arabs and the U.S., not just Iran, he said. Soliman
advocated making Iran suffer economically to be "too busy
with its people" to make problems in Iraq. Reducing Iranian
influence will help the Iraqi government become one, and not
a competition between Sunni and Shi'a. he said.
9. (C) Asked about the consequences of any U.S. strike on
Iranian nuclear capabilities, Soliman said such an attack
would not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities and would only
unite Iranians with their leadership and against the U.S. He
repeated the need to make Iran "busy with its people" by
effective sanctions, citing the successful example of Libya.
Asked about Sudan, he said that Egypt is still working to
make north-south unity attractive, and to encourage talks
between the GOS and rebels and between Bashir and Deby.
10. (C) Asked what it means when Arabs say that the U.S.
"should listen to us," Soliman gave the example that
President Mubarak warned Vice President Cheney about the
consequences of the U.S. invading Iraq. Additionally, "your
unilateral positions on economic aid are difficult."
However, Soliman emphasized that Egypt is keen to continue to
have a "very close" relationship with the U.S.
11. (C) Gamal opined that the "battle lines are clearer for
Egypt than ever before" on regional issues. The region "will
not realize its full potential as long as geopolitical
problems continue," he said. With the Israeli/Palestinian
problem in particular, "we are racing against time." Gamal
advocated close engagement by the U.S., Egypt, and other
countries (NFI) in order to make practical improvements in
the every day lives of Palestinians and develop a framework
for a final deal, with borders as the key issue. Other
regional issues such as Iran and Lebanon are "much more
complicated," he said; "the picture is not that rosy."
12. (C) Representative Baird raised the issue of USAID
efforts to assist conservation of Red Sea reefs, which Gamal
agreed was an important issue. Representative Shays asked
Gamal's opinion of Syria President Bashar Al Assad, to which
Gamal replied that "he understands the world better than his
father," but that he is worried that opening up politically
or economically could result in a loss of control.
13. (C) Representative Harman asked for Egypt to do more to
fight smuggling to Gaza through tunnels, perhaps by setting
up roadblocks a few miles before the border to intercept
contraband. Gamal said that the border is a "shared concern"
and Egypt is doing what it can to address smuggling.
14. (C) Representative Fortenberry asked about how to counter
a developing Iranian nuclear program. Egypt and Saudi
Arabia, as well as Jordan, are the "heavyweights" that can
counter Iran, Gamal said, but he advocated movement on the
Israeli/Palestinian track to remove a prime issue that Iran
can use as a pretext.
American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt
15. (SBU) The AmCham group led by President Omar Mohanna
(Suez Cement) lamented that the lack of a U.S.-Egypt FTA
continues to push Egypt's trade towards Europe and away from
the U.S. They praised the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ)
program and advocated expanding it to upper Egypt, though
they acknowledged that increasing Egyptian textile exports to
the U.S. would be a sensitive issue in the U.S. textile
lobby. Karim Ramadan (Microsoft) praised the historic role
of USAID in Egypt and asked that it continue with a focus on
education and health, areas in particular need of development