Working through the details
What to do about developments in the Palestinian territories and Iraq remain prominent diplomatic topics. Nevine Khalil reports
Cairo has been consulting several regional and world players concerned with restoring stability in the Palestinian territories and Iraq, the two most volatile sites in the region. Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher will head Egypt's delegation to Damascus for a conference of foreign ministers of Iraq's neighbours in a few days. The meeting is to be one of a series of gatherings which earlier convened in Istanbul and Riyadh to review developments in Iraq. Discussions aim to "reach a common vision for the benefit of the Iraqi people", according to Maher. Delegations from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Jordan and Kuwait will attend.
Meanwhile, President Hosni Mubarak met on Monday with Japan's Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, whose country is a principal donor to the Middle East peace process and is also cooperating closely with Egypt on Iraqi reconstruction. "Japan views Egypt as a pioneer in the region," Yoriko told reporters after the meeting, "and we are working together to support the Palestinian and Iraqi people."
Yoriko, on a mission that sent her on to Tunis from Cairo, discussed several fields of cooperation between Japan and Egypt in the region and Africa. The most prominent of these is Iraq, where Japan's expertise in building and managing medical facilities will be complimented by Egypt's medical staffing capabilities. The Cairo Hospital in Iraq -- a joint project -- is scheduled to open soon. Japan has pledged $5 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq in addition to funding humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. But Japan seeks a more substantial role here than regional bursar.
Tokyo sponsored a dialogue with the Arab and Muslim world "to deepen understanding for the sake of peace and stability", Yoriko told Al-Ahram newspaper on Saturday. The first forum, which focussed on the situation in Iraq and the Arab economy, was held in September, with participation from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The next session will be in Alexandria in January.
Discussing the peace process in an Al-Ahram interview, Yoriko called on Israel to "exert the utmost in self-control in order to prevent the situation from becoming more complicated". She noted that the cycle of violence between the Palestinians and Israelis "is hindering the implementation of the roadmap".
In terms of overall stability in the region, Japan, which became the only country ever to suffer a nuclear attack when the US struck at the end of World War II, supports Egypt's call of making the Middle East a region free of all weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). "The issue of WMDs in the Middle East not only affects peace and stability in the region, but also the whole world. I personally asked the Israeli foreign minister to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as soon as possible," Yoriko noted.
During talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell on 22 October, Mubarak touched on how to restore calm and security in Iraq, but also discussed the damage done in the Palestinian territories. In the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting, before Powell headed to the Iraq donors' conference in Madrid, Mubarak urged Washington to ensure that Israel honours its obligations in the implementation of the roadmap, as the Palestinians have done.
Maher said that the Egyptian- American talks were conducted in the shadow of Israel's provocative policies, making clear the culprit for the ongoing violence. "There must be American movement to end the catastrophic situation in the Palestinian territories," Maher urged. "The world community must also work on bringing the peace process back to the negotiating table as well as the roadmap." Maher was audience to US assurances that it remains committed to the implementation of the roadmap, with US President George W Bush's administration requesting each party to honour its commitments to end the violence.
But the US continues, in a one- sided manner, to insist on the formation of a Palestinian government with a mandate to combat violence. This was relayed to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei during a brief meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns in Cairo, before the US official proceeded to the Mubarak-Powell meeting. Qurei told reporters later that the 40-minute meeting covered an array of issues, including the severe suffering of the Palestinians as a result of continued aggressions by the Israelis.
Maher, who had met Qurei earlier, said that the head of the Palestinian government conveyed the Palestinian Authority's (PA) commitment to implementing the roadmap, "but Israel is not helping towards that end". Maher criticised Tel Aviv's hostile policies of assassination, destruction and blockade, describing them as "the heart of the problem". Maher and Qurei also discussed the recent UN General Assembly decision condemning the construction of the security wall and what follow- up steps are needed on the matter. "Israel has failed in achieving peace and security, and only managed to bring about more bloodshed on both sides," Maher told reporters after the meeting.
Qurei, who also met Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa in Cairo, said that his government's priorities are to prevent the construction of the security barrier, confront Israel's plans to build more settlements, block attempts to Judaise Jerusalem and hold free elections by next June. "I call on the diplomatic Quartet and the world community to work on producing an environment which is conducive for these elections, primarily by making Israel withdraw from the Palestinian areas," Qurei announced.
Qurei's call found resonance in a meeting between Maher and China's Middle East peace envoy Wang Chi Geh on 23 October, where both sides agreed that the world community should strive for a breakthrough in the current Middle East crises. In a news conference a day before meeting Maher, Wang said that his country was "very concerned about the tensions in the region, especially the Palestinian territories". Beijing wants to see the restitution of all Palestinian and Arab rights in step with the provision of Israel's security needs. Wang called Israel's proposition to exile Palestinian President Yasser Arafat an "unwise decision". He added that thus far the Palestinians have "suffered more than the Jews during World War II".
During their Sharm El-Sheikh meeting last week, Powell also briefed Mubarak on the Sudanese peace talks which he had just attended. He was optimistic about progress towards peace between northern and southern Sudan, predicting that an agreement may be signed by the end of the year at the White House.