Thursday, January 04, 2007

Olmert to meet Mubarak

From Jan. 3, 2007 » by HERB KAINON AND JPOST STAFF ...

...bringing Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries more firmly into the region's "moderate camp" to act as a bulwark against Syria and Iran is expected to be one of the focuses of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Thursday in Sharm e-Sheikh, Israeli diplomatic sources said Wednesday night.

Olmert is scheduled to fly to Sharm Thursday afternoon to meet with Mubarak, where the issue of Shalit's release will also be a focus of the discussions. ... despite persistent reports in the Arab press [and Haaretz], Israeli officials warned against expectations that Mubarak and Olmert would make any dramatic announcements regarding Shalit or a Palestinian prisoner release. Hamas leaders [and Haaretz] continued to insist Wednesday that a deal was close at hand, claiming that Israel had agreed to release hundreds of prisoners, while Israeli officials [and Jerusalem Post] denied any deal was close.

Wednesday's renewed clashes between Hamas and Fatah were also expected to arise in the meetings, with Olmert - according to diplomatic officials - interested in hearing the Egyptians' take on the situation inside Gaza, especially since Cairo has representatives inside the Gaza Strip who talk to both sides.

Regarding the co-opting of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries into a regional moderate camp, which now includes Egypt and Jordan, Israeli officials said there was likely to be a discussion of ways to cooperate to reduce the danger to the region of the type of Shiite extremism coming out of Iran and currently threatening Lebanon. Mubarak is expected to brief Olmert on what he thinks Israel needed to do to bring Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries on board to push the diplomatic process with the Palestinians forward.

Mubarak is also expected to urge Olmert to look favorably on the recent overtures from Syria. According to Israeli assessments, the Egyptians believe that such a move could help pull the Syrians out of Iran's orbit.

Olmert is also expected to brief Mubarak on his meeting last month with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and discuss a number of issues that were brought up there, including the release of PA tax revenue and the lifting of West Bank roadblocks. Olmert will also likely raise the issue of arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza, and likely repeat Israel's frequent calls to the Egyptians to take more effective action to stop the smuggling.

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