CAIRO: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds a second day of talks with Egyptian dignitaries today as part of her tour urging Middle East allies to stand strong against Hamas and Iran. Rice is scheduled to meet with President Hosni Mubarak as well as a number of Egyptian intellectuals this morning, before departing for Saudi Arabia.
In Cairo yesterday, Rice met with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit, looking to rally support for America’s agenda for democracy in the region and containment of militant Islamic governments. She urged the Egyptian government to assume a leading role in the intervention against nuclear development in the region and act as a moderator in tensions between Syria and Lebanon, as well as Israel and the new Palestinian government.
“The international community expects the Palestinian government will have to be dedicated to peace, Rice said last night during a press conference at Cairo’s old Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “If Hamas wants to lead the Palestinian’s inspiration for peace for life, it can’t have one foot in the camp of terror and one foot in the camp of peace.
“I’m sure Hamas will evolve, added Abul-Gheit. “We should not prejudge the situation. We object to Israeli policies which cut off the Palestinians.
Since Hamas’ unprecedented win over Palestine’s ruling Fatah party in last month’s revised parliamentary elections, the Bush Administration has grown increasingly outspoken over the group’s militant activity and refusal to negotiate with Israel.
Israel has already retorted by freezing some $43 million in monthly taxes and customs fees it collects for the Palestinian Authority. America and Europe are the two largest donors to the Palestinian government and have already stated they would not fund a Hamas-led government. Rice is now calling upon Egypt and other allies to withhold all financial support to Hamas as well.
According to Rice’s estimates, the Palestinian Authority requires some $1.9 billion annually. Bloomberg reports the United States has given an average $85 million in financial aid to Palestine since 1993.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood this week launched a worldwide fundraising campaign across the Arab world looking to provide support to Hamas. The 57-country member Organization of the Islamic Conference has also pledged to provide institutional and financial assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
Meanwhile, talks continue for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Egypt, though Secretary Rice explained now is not the time to officially sign any agreement. Rice asserted that the delay of FTA talks is in no way meant to penalize Egypt for any of its recent political affairs.
“We continue to discuss a free trade agreement, explained Rice. “We believe it is important for any country’s economic reform.
Experts speculate that the imprisonment of El-Ghad party leader Ayman Nour in December and last week’s two-year postponement of the municipal elections in Egypt may have strained relations between the United States and Egypt, its second largest recipient of financial assistance after Israel. The U.S. government may also begin approaching Egypt, a long-time ally, with greater caution since the banned but tolerated Brotherhood made significant gains in the parliamentary elections last December.
Last week, Britain’s The New Statesman magazine published a series of documents alleging they outlined a policy for developing closer ties between the United Kingdom and the Muslim Brotherhood. The United States has refused to meet with members of Egypt’s leading Islamic organization, saying it does not associate with outlawed political parties. “Human beings’ desire to be able to say what they think, to have a say in those who will govern them, said Rice. “It takes time, we understand. Our aspiration is not to spread American style democracy. The U.S. has no reason to be arrogant.