US-Egypt talks focus on Middle East

Egyptian president and US secretary of state discuss Arab-Israeli peace and Iran.

    Obama, left, has met Mubarak on two previous occasions in the last three months [EPA]

    Settlements issue

    Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said Mubarak is expected to tell Obama that Arab states will only improve relations with Israel if it stops the expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

    He added, however, that "despite Egypt's heated statements that Israel must act first because of Israel's bad record over the last 16 years, some movement may still take place".

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    "But the principles remain the same - there is a promise from the Arab world that it will normalise relations with Israel but Israel will have to act first, especially on the question of freezing settlements and withdrawing from the occupied territories."

    Michele Dunne, who focuses on Arab politics and US-Middle East policy as a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said US engagement with Egypt has changed since Obama took over as president from George Bush in January.

    "President Mubarak was somewhat on the 'outs' of the Bush administration. He seems very much back in with the Obama administration and the Egyptians want everyone to know that," she told Al Jazeera.

    "The second aspect is the Arab-Israeli peace process: it is anticipated that President Obama is going to be coming out with an initiative of some kind very soon, maybe in the next couple of weeks.

    "President Mubarak thinks this is a very important time to get to Obama and convey his ideas before Obama announces his initiative."

    Mediation

    The US has in recent months put more pressure on Israel's government to order a halt to settlement-building activity on land designated for a future Palestinian state.

    It has, at the same time, urged Arab nations to normalise relations with Israel.

    Egypt formally recognised its northern neighbour in 1979, while Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, but other Arab states have refused to normalise ties.

    Cairo has in recent months mediated between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian organisation which refuses to recognise Israel, as part of efforts to forge a lasting peace settlement.

    Egyptian officials have also served as mediator between Hamas, which has control of the Gaza Strip, and rival faction Fatah, which holds sway in the West Bank and has held talks in the past with Israel.

    Attempts by Egypt to kick-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have so far proved unsuccessful, however, while Hamas and Fatah remain at odds.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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