Cablegate: Scenesetter for Ambassador Crocker's Visit to Cairo
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S E C R E T CAIRO 003126SIPDISSIPDISE.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2017 TAGS: PREL PGOV EG IQ
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR AMBASSADOR CROCKER’S VISIT TO CAIROClassified By: DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION STUART JONES. REASONS: 1.4 (B) and (D)
1. (S) Welcome to Cairo.
2. (S) Cairo-Baghdad Relations: The Egyptian leadership wants assurances that the USG will not withdraw from Iraq precipitously. The Egyptians were also taken aback by Senate resolution on sectarian division, which got broad press play here. The GOE has played a constructive role in the expanded neighbors forum. Mubarak hosted the group in Sharm el Sheikh in May and Aboul Gheit will join the Istanbul meeting. The GOE dislikes and distrusts PM al Maliki, but stops short of calling for his removal, so far, even in private. Vice President Abdel Mahdi was received warmly in September and made a positive impression.
3. (S) The best thing the Baghdad can do now to improve relations with Cairo is appoint a full-time Ambassador. The GOE is still stung by the August 2005 assassination of its emissary, Ihab el-Sharif, but has made noises about appointing an Ambassador to Baghdad resident in Cairo.
4. (C) Egypt has a strong record on intelligence liaison and blocking foreign fighters en route to Iraq. This has included several arrests here. You may wish to praise Egypt’s help and also ask how the Egyptians regard the problem of Syria transit. Egyptian has not experienced the huge refugee influx of Iraq’s neighbors but the approximately 200,000 displaced Iraqis are a source of anxiety and concern. The Egyptians want to be involved in any refugee solution.
4. (C) DEBT: The Egyptians are not accustomed to forgiving other countries’ debts and regard the Iraqis as oil-rich. MFA reportedly has the portfolio to negotiate the debt issue, but most of the debt is held by MOD, which is not engaged. The parties have discussed a compromise that the GOE would forgive official debt -- approximately $700m -- if the Iraqis paid off their private debt, owed mainly to Egyptian workers who had worked in Iraq, estimated at approximately $400m. But there is considerable dispute over the figures and the Iraqis seem no more eager than the Egyptians to close a deal. We expect this process to drag on for some time.
5. (S) IRAN: The Egyptians dismiss news reports that the GOE is moving towards normalization with Iran. Aboul Gheit met with his Iranian counterpart on the margins of UNGA. Omar Soliman takes an especially hard line on Tehran and frequently refers to the Iranians as “devils.” But bilateral contacts are on the rise. Soliman will press you for an assessment of Iranian activity in Iraq and also of al Maliki’s ties to Tehran. Mubarak and Soliman are furious about Bashar Al Assad’s collaboration with Iran. They want the USG to improve relations with Damascus to lure Bashar back to the Arab fold. But Egyptian influence is very limited and Cairo is out of ideas.
6. (S) Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa is one of the few Arab leaders to serially visit Baghdad. (Aboul Gheit will not go). The Arab League has exchanged ambassadors with Baghdad. You may wish to enlist Moussa in efforts to increase Arab diplomatic representation in Baghdad.
7. (C) Moussa met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan October 18, and reportedly advised against Turkish intervention in northern Iraq, taking the view that Iraq had enough issues to deal with already. A key Arab League contact told us October 18 he was confident that the Turks will not enter northern Iraq, but noted the idea (apparently proposed by Maliki) of a joint Turkish-Iraqi force to address Turkish concerns would not be unreasonable so long as the two governments agreed to it. RICCIARDONE