Cablegate: Egypt: Aboul Gheit On Iraq, Mepp with a/S Burns
O 181318Z NOV 04
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1815
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 008456
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/18/2014
TAGS: PREL KPAL EG IS SU IR KBIO
SUBJECT: EGYPT: ABOUL GHEIT ON IRAQ, MEPP WITH A/S BURNS
Classified by Deputy Chief of Mission Gordon Gray for reasons
1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) In a November 13 meeting at the Foreign Ministry, NEA Assistant Secretary Bill Burns and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit recalled events surrounding Yasser Arafat's funeral the previous day and discussed the upcoming Iraq conference in Sharm El Sheikh. Aboul Gheit noted his desire to make the conference one of interaction and many bilateral discussions rather than focusing on formal group meetings. A primary goal was to "enable dialogue." He said the communique "went a little beyond UNSC 1546," which in his view was appropriate to draw attention to the roles of regional players,
including the Arab League. He cautioned against the negative optic of Americans fighting in Falluja during the conference. He suggested an informal encounter between the U.S. and Iranian foreign ministers in Sharm El Sheikh.
2. (C) Aboul Gheit stressed the need for Israel to help facilitate Palestinian elections logistically. Noting his plans to visit Ramallah on November 24, he was concerned that Israel would seek other reasons for not engaging now that Yasser Arafat was out of the picture. The Minister also cited the need for GOI "gestures" like prisoner releases to give Palestinian leaders credibility. Aboul Gheit said Syria was showing
appropriate restraint. On Sudan, Aboul Gheit reiterated his desire to speak at the November 18 UNSC session to be held in Nairobi. He discussed the best timing for a trip to the U.S. in the spring. This message concludes with a few bio notes on Aboul Gheit, who has now been in office for 120 days.
3. (C) Aboul Gheit recalled the funeral services for Yasser Arafat the previous day, noting the "scary" experience of landing in Ramallah for the burial. The crowd did not concern him so much as the tight landing area, which he said had the pilot somewhat worried about a safe touchdown. Describing his ginger exit from the helicopter and 45-minute journey to a nearby building in the thick crowd, he commended the PA for going to their "fall back" position of a direct burial (without the anticipated viewing in a building full of dignitaries). He said Abu Mazen calmly received word that "it's done" when many were still anticipating a formal viewing. In sum, the funeral was "an experience."
4. (C) The Minister described his intention to make the November
22-23 Sharm El Sheikh conference an opportunity for interaction
between delegations. Events, including a dinner and a lunch, would
be available to all delegation heads, yet no one would be obligated
to join any set event. The design is intended to "enable dialogue"
by offering "just the setting."
5. (C) As for a basic agenda, he cited a two-hour meeting of Iraq's
neighbors plus the UN on November 22, followed by a dinner to which
all foreign ministers were welcome. (A/S Burns also suggested a
bilateral with Secretary Powell on November 22 if schedules
permitted.) Breakfast on November 23 would be at leisure and
bilateral meetings were encouraged. A 10:00 a.m. meeting would be
an opportunity for delegations to give statements if they chose --
four minutes or so for each delegation who desired. Aboul Gheit said
he would clarify at the outset, however, that not all delegations
were obligated to speak. "We will not insist on hearing from
everyone." After a luncheon on November 23, Aboul Gheit hoped the
afternoon could be designed to "encourage interaction" between the
various delegations rather than formal group meetings. Aboul Gheit
said he would offer a statement to the press and take questions
during the afternoon as well.
6. (C) Aboul Gheit said the communique "went a little beyond UNSC
1546," which in his view was appropriate since regional powers and
regional organizations were meeting to engage more deeply on Iraq.
A strong reference to the role of the Arab League, for example,
could encourage Secretary General Amre Moussa ("oblige him") to act
within an agreed framework.
7. (C) Not wanting to "jump to conclusions" about how events in Falluja might turn out, Aboul Gheit said the issue was not "taking
over the city" but preventing violence and terror from spreading to
other cities. He said "Mosul today reflects Falluja six months ago."
A/S Burns noted that Mosul was looking better then a few days prior,
and that planning for Falluja involved extensive and immediate
economic recovery assistance. The "day after" plans would help bring
law and order to Falluja and would make life more hopeful for its
residents -- including efforts at job creation. Similar programs in
Najaf and Sadr City had emphasized hope and inclusion in rebuilding
efforts, said A/S Burns; the upcoming conference in Egypt should
stress a similar commitment to international engagement. Aboul Gheit
said "your problem is not that the U.S. military fought well, but
that they are on TV" too often. Iraqi forces should be in the
limelight, he stressed.
8. (C) Expressing his hope that the U.S. role would not leave "a
bitter impression in the Sunni world," Aboul Gheit cited media scenes
of U.S. forces running through mosques while firing their weapons;
"these are scenes one must be careful with." A better impression would
result if "Mahmoud and Mohammed" were searching the mosque, not "John
9. (C) A/S Burns noted that Secretary Powell was considering a trip to
Jerusalem around the time of the Sharm El Sheikh conference. A key topic would be practical support for Palestinian elections, including pressing Israel to cooperate. Aboul Gheit said he also planned to visit (likely
Ramallah) on November 24. He lamented that President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair had "put everything on the Palestinians" instead of
citing Israel's need to help facilitate meaningful elections. He asked
how a people could elect a leader without having freedom of movement
within their own cities. Aboul Gheit feared that the GOI might find
further pretexts to avoid engagement with the Palestinians, continuing their "no partner" mantra with a new formula. Burns noted that meaningful Palestinian elections were "deeply in Israel's interest" and
an opportunity to help stabilize the region if properly handled.
10. (C) Aboul Gheit floated the idea of the U.S., Egypt, Israel, and the
Palestinians getting together to "launch a process" towardreconciliation.
A/S Burns said the idea may be premature, but was nonetheless worth
keeping in mind. He said it was important to "make sure there is a practical commitment" on all sides first. Aboul Gheit's goal was to "implicate Israel in a process." The Minister and his staff also cited
the need for GOI "gestures" like prisoner releases, in addition to logistical support, to make elections (and newly-elected leaders) a
success. The lack of such gestures from Israel undercut Abu Mazen's
authority as Prime Minister, they opined. Failure to capitalize on current
opportunities to reopen negotiations could doom the conflict to continue
into the next century, concluded Aboul Gheit. He said Intelligence Chief
Omar Soliman would also be gathering Palestinian factions for cease fire talks in Cairo once again, but did not elaborate.
11. (C) A/S Burns said the PA needed to demonstrate that it could govern
responsibly, and deliver things for Palestinians. He had told Syrian
President Asad (in a brief conversation at the Arafat funeral) that it was
important for all parties to use their influence to keep things calm. Aboul
Gheit said Syria had manifested that desire for some time and was showing
restraint. The Syrian Foreign Minister had reaffirmed the same in Cairo
the previous week, he asserted.
12. (C) Asking how the USG might interface with the Iranians in Sharm El Sheikh, Aboul Gheit recommended that Secretary Powell approach the Iranian Foreign Minister in a "small group" and break off for a few seconds of private discussion. After mingling, a simple "Kamal, let's have a talk" might lead the way to a formal bilateral, said Aboul Gheit, who was certain that the Iranians would not make the first move.
13. (C) A/S Burns expressed appreciation for Aboul Gheit's interest in
addressing a UNSC meeting to be held in Nairobi November 18 and 19. Aboul Gheit said he wanted to deliver a statement early on November 18 (because he needed to return to Cairo) and asked for assistance in getting his name on the speakers list for a brief presentation.
14. (C) After a brief listing of pending bilateral issues, Aboul Gheit
asked when might be the best time for him to visit the U.S. He agreed that an early February visit, when the Congress was back in session and a likely Mubarak visit was a month or two in the future, might be most appropriate to "bring to bear a certain impression" of the relationship. He also floated the idea of another visit after a Mubarak trip. A/S Burns encouraged Egypt to send other ministers in the meantime to keep the issues and personalities clear in the minds of USG interlocutors.
15. (C) Referring to Armed Forces Chief of Staff Weheba's early December visit to Washington, Aboul Gheit said the Lantos amendment (to reassign portions of military aid to economic assistance) "will be defeated, I assure you."
16. (C) About Gheit volunteered during the meeting that he was "a grandfather for the second time." His daughter, Lara, had delivered a daughter, Tamara, the previous day while he was involved in Arafat's funeral. He also reinforced his protocol-conscious approach to diplomacy in describing an invitation from U.S. PermRep to the UN Danforth which he regretted because the invitation was not personalized. When the invitation was reissued with his name properly
personalized, he was ready to accept the invitation; in the interim, however, he was called back to Cairo to begin his tenure as Foreign Minister.
17. (C) Citing his 120 days on the job as very busy for him and for his staff (a comment confirmed in the fatigued faces around the room), Aboul Gheit said he looked forward to putting his feet up and enjoying a beer at his farm the following day (the beginning of the post-Ramadan feast). His staff later noted that having the minister away from the office offered some reprieve from a hectic pace, but that he would no doubt keep them busy from a distance during the next few days of holiday.
18. (U) A/S Burns has cleared this cable.
19. (U) Baghdad minimized considered. Visit Embassy Cairo's Classified Website: http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/cairo You can also access this site through the
State Department's Classified SIPRNET