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Cablegate: Fm Aboul Gheit Visits Baghdad

DE RUEHEG #2141 2791236
O 051236Z OCT 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 002141


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/05/2018

REF: A. CAIRO 1842
B. CAIRO 1789

Classified By: DCM Matthew Tueller
Reasons: 1.4 (B) And (D)
1.(C) Summary. Egyptian FM Aboul Gheit, accompanied by Minister for Oil Sameh Fahmy, visited Baghdad October 5. MFA Senior Advisor Hossam Zaki told CDA October 4 that the purpose of the visit is to make clear that Egypt supports Iraq, and that it reflects increasing Egyptian confidence in the Maliki government. Zaki said that the GOE is still working on plans to return an ambassador to Baghdad. CDA said that the visit is a very positive step, and urged that Aboul Gheit use the visit to assure the Maliki government of regional support for Iraqi political reconciliation. End summary.

2.(C) Zaki informed CDA October 4 of FM Aboul Gheit's plan to make the October 5 visit. He said that all logistical arrangements had been made between the Egyptian and Iraqi foreign ministries, but asked we facilitate Egypt's request to enter Iraqi airspace. Note: Embassy Baghdad was able to facilitate flight clearances by the evening of October 4 and Aboul Gheit arrived in Baghdad the morning of October 5. End note). Zaki said that the visit would be unannounced due to security concerns. Aboul Gheit was scheduled to meet with Iraqi leadership, including President Talabani, PM Maliki and FM Zebari.

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3.(C) Zaki said that the "symbolic visit" would be the first by an Egyptian foreign minister to Iraq in 18 years. The goal of the visit is to send the message that "we (Egypt) are not letting Iraq alone," Zaki said. He said that terrorism, including the 2005 assassination of Egyptian ambassador Ihab el Sharif, had hindered GOE efforts to maintain a presence in Iraq. "We hope this visit will put things back on track," Zaki said. Egypt's approach to the Iraqi government is part of a broader regional strategy to counter Iranian influence, according to Zaki. "It is hugely important for Egypt not to be absent in Iraq," he said.

4.(C) Increasing Egyptian confidence in the Maliki government is another major reason for Aboul Gheit's visit, said Zaki (reftel a). There are still some senior Egyptian policymakers that have their doubts about Maliki, but overall the Egyptian assessment in improving, Zaki said. He personally believes that Maliki has changed "for the better" and is a nationalist. But, he cautioned that Maliki still has "an uphill battle" to fully convince the Egyptians that he has changed and can be "trusted." CDA noted that the GOI had recently approved the provincial elections law, which should help improve the political process, especially for Sunnis. Zaki opined that part of Maliki's problem might be that the Iranians have "infiltrated" the Iraqi government, and made it tough for Maliki to take additional positive steps.

5.(C) Egyptian Minister for Oil Sameh Fahmy accompanied Aboul Gheit to Baghdad. Zaki did not expect any agreements on oil, but said that it would be a good opportunity for the Egyptians and Iraqis to meet and have discussions on this issue.

6.(C) CDA urged that FM Aboul Gheit do what he could, publicly or privately, to support political progress in Iraq, including in ongoing negotiations for a security agreement with the U.S. Iran is likely to portray any U.S.-Iraqi agreement in extremely unfavorable terms, and we need to make sure the Iraqi people understand that there is regional support for such an agreement. Zaki took the point.

7.(C) Zaki reiterated that Egypt's plan to return an ambassador to Baghdad and open a new embassy would be governed by Egypt's assessment of the security situation (reftel b), and that Aboul Gheit's visit was not directly connected to this process. He did not give an indication as to when Egypt would finalize a timeline. TUELLER

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