In Egypt, Hillary Clinton offers support for Islamist president (LA TIMES) By Jeffrey Fleishman CAIRO, EGYPT 07/15/12)
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The secretary of State, seeking a delicate balance as the U.S.
recalibrates its Egypt policy, visits new President Mohamed Morsi and
plans to talk with the top ruling general Sunday.
CAIRO ó U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met for the
first time Saturday with new President Mohamed Morsi in a fresh push
to strengthen U.S.-Egyptian relations as the country enters an era of
unpredictability in which an Islamist leader is clashing with a
secular military over control of the nation.
Clinton´s talks with Morsi signaled a historic shift from the days
when U.S. diplomats visited President Hosni Mubarak, a stalwart
American partner on countering terrorism and preserving Egypt´s peace
treaty with Israel. With Mubarak toppled by popular revolt last year,
Washington is recalibrating its approach as it deals with a freely
elected president suspicious of American designs on the Middle East.
Egypt´s intensifying power struggle threatens to upend its fledgling
democracy, and the dilemma Clinton faced was starkly apparent: She
showed her support for Morsi but on Sunday was expected to meet with
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the country´s top military
commander, who has rebuffed pressure to cede authority.
"I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United
States for the Egyptian people and their democratic transition," she
said. "We want to be a good partner and we want to support the
democracy that has been achieved by the courage and sacrifice of the
The trip by Clinton to the Arab world´s most populous state unfolds
as the Obama administration is moving to keep pace with months of
regional upheaval. Egypt has been a key to U.S. policy since the
1970s, but there is sharpening concern in Washington that new
Islamist leaders in Tunisia and Egypt will gradually chart a
different course even as they seek American aid and investment.
The pivotal moment was underscored when Clinton met Morsi, a U.S.-
educated engineer who ran as a candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood,
in the presidential palace. The Muslim Brotherhood had been outlawed
by Mubarak for decades, and American officials had refused to
publicly meet with its members.
Morsi told Clinton, "We are very, very keen to meet you and happy
that you are here."
Egypt is consumed with economic problems, and its foreign policy is
not likely to change dramatically in the short term. Cairo has
promised to respect its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, although Morsi
has suggested it may be reevaluated later. The new president is under
pressure from ultraconservative Islamists to improve ties with
Palestinians and draw a harder line against Israel.
Clinton emphasized America´s support for the peace treaty. Egyptian
Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, who stood beside Clinton at a
news conference, said, "Mohamed Morsi has repeatedly announced on all
occasions that Egypt respects all peace treaties that Egypt is a
party to as long as the other party also respects them."
The battle between Morsi and the military has the United States in a
predicament that critics say is rife with irony. Washington is urging
a democratic transition and for Morsi´s vision of political Islam to
respect civil liberties. At the same time, the U.S. is giving the
Egyptian military, which has been subverting the nation´s democracy
by disbanding the parliament and limiting Morsi´s powers, more than
$1.3 billion in annual aid.
Clinton commended the military for "representing the Egyptian people"
during the revolution, unlike the Syrian army´s daily assaults on
civilians that have left thousands dead as President Bashar Assad
clings to power.
"But there is more work ahead," she said. "And I think the issues
around the parliament, the constitution have to be resolved between
and among Egyptians. I will look forward to discussing these issues
tomorrow with Field Marshal Tantawi and in working to support the
military´s return to a purely national security role."
She added that the U.S. would forgive $1 billion in Egyptian debt and
provide $280 million for economic development.
The strategic relationship between Cairo and Washington has been
further complicated by the case of 16 American civil society workers
accused of financial and other crimes over democracy-building
programs in Egypt. The politically charged case, which began
unfolding late last year, marked a low point in relations, especially
after Egyptian authorities portrayed the Americans as spies.
The most recent Pew poll in the country found that 76% of Egyptians
have an unfavorable view of the Obama administration. Many Egyptians
see America as either an interloper or as a nation that promises
democratic ideals until they interfere with U.S. national interests.
The same poll found that 60% of Egyptians want the laws of their
government to "strictly" follow the Koran, another indication of
America´s thinning influence. Protesters, including Christians,
demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy and the presidential palace
Saturday against closer relations between Washington and Morsi.
Christians fear that an Islamist-controlled government would curtail
"We believe America shares a strategic relationship with Egypt, far
outnumbering our differences," Clinton said at the news conference.
Special correspondent Reem Abdellatif contributed to this report.
(Copyright © 2012 Los Angeles Times 07/15/12)
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