Tuesday, August 18, 2009

".... Under-the-radar quality to Mubarak's state visit...."

"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who arrived in Washington Monday accompanied by a large delegation including his son Gamal Mubarak and several dozen Egyptian journalists, doesn't travel light. Still, with members of Congress back in their districts during August recess and much of the rest of the city out of town, there is a distinct under-the-radar quality to this official Mubarak state visit, his first to Washington in six years.........

...... instead of American VIPs coming to have an audience with Mubarak at Blair House as planned in May, the Egyptians have invited groups of former senior U.S. government officials to meet with Mubarak at the Four Seasons as well.

Mubarak is slated to have a "leaders" meeting -- just him and President Barack Obama plus note-takers -- at the White House tomorrow, followed by an expanded meeting of the two delegations that will include Vice PresidentJoseph Biden, National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones, Clinton, other national security principals and key staff, ....... The Egyptian delegation is due to depart Washington directly after the White House meetings Tuesday.

The timing of the visit might be deliberately low key, designed to obscure concerns about Mubarak's heavyhanded rule at home and the uncertain succession prospects for the octogenarian leader. Notably, Mubarak is accompanied this visit by his son and possible would-be successor Gamal Mubarak, 44, who slipped into Washington in March for a low profile, private visit, speaking to small, invite-only meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The big unanswered question of the Mubarak visit is what, if anything, President Obama will say to Mubarak about Egypt's internal political situation," said one Washington Middle East hand who asked for anonymity. "Concern is rising about Mubarak's longevity and how smooth a transition to Egypt's next president will be. Conditions are poor: Mubarak has made no formal provisions, there is opposition to his son's ascendance, and the country is under increasing socio-economic stress ... The U.S., which relies on Egypt for regional strategic cooperation, is legitimately concerned with these problems -- but Cairo has made it clear they don't want to discuss domestic affairs, or at least not in public."

Several experts said that could well be the reason for the dead of August scheduling. Said Stephen Cook, a Middle East hand at the Council on Foreign Relations, "When the Egyptians ... rescheduled this meeting, and they chose the middle of August, ... a week before Obama's vacation, with Obama checking his watch, it seems to me that the Egyptians were heavily involved" in scheduling Mubarak's trip for when Congress and those who might holler about Egypt's record on human rights and democracy would be scant. ....

......Mubarak and his key negotiator, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, may also try to leverage a clash last weekend between Hamas and a reportedly Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group in Gaza to try to push the Obama administration to adopt a more flexible formula for enabling Hamas to join a prospective Palestinian unity government. The Obama administration has said that Hamas can join such a unity government if it agrees to the so-called "Quartet conditions"........ Cairo wants Washington to consider Hamas members' prospective recognition of the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative as de facto recognition of Israel's right to exist, the former senior official said. "Some in the U.S. administration don't agree."

No comments: