On the agenda at the meeting between presidents Barack Obama and Hosni Mubarak this week were Palestine, Iran and Iraq, all of which involve Syria in some way. The two disagreed on some things, but on protecting Lebanon and supporting its sovereignty, they remain firm.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (L) speaks with US President Barack Obama (R) during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on August 18. (AFP/Jim Watson)
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, Special to NOW
Following his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Washington this week, US President Barack Obama told the press that the two addressed the Arab-Israeli situation, a nuclear Iran and making progress in Iraq. Sources informed on the meeting said that under the umbrella of Iran and Iraq, the two presidents also discussed Syria and Lebanon.
First on the agenda was the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the word on the street in Washington is that Mideast Peace Envoy George Mitchell has succeeded in convincing the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume negotiations.
President Mubarak – who has been playing a key role in bringing the two main Palestinian groups, Fatah and Hamas, together – has added to this apparent American success a proposal: Skip trust-building measures and move on to negotiating a final agreement, which, if ratified, will cut out political maneuvers and populist public stunts on both sides.
The Egyptian delegation to Washington did not forget, however, to mention to senior US officials the negative role that Damascus has been playing in obstructing peace by constantly pressuring Hamas to undo whatever national-unity agreements it has with its rival Fatah.
And while Syria has been lobbying inside Washington for a long time now to convince American officials that only Damascus holds the keys to solutions in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq, sources report that Egyptian officials have argued otherwise, as they made the case against the Saudi-Syrian peace initiative in June, making it harder for a future Washington-Damascus rapprochement.
After the meeting, some US officials concluded that Syria cannot break with Iran, and that it is unable to deliver in Iraq or on Hezbollah inside Lebanon. This does not mean however, according to Washington sources, that America will slam the door in the Syrians’ face. “The door will remain open for now and it is up to the Syrians to choose, but as time goes by, there will be fewer and fewer favors the Syrians can do for America and the world,” a source close to the administration told NOW Lebanon on condition of anonymity.
In terms of a nuclear Iran – number two on the Obama-Mubarak agenda – there was a difference in perspective between the two sides. Washington believes it can push Tehran to a crossroads, making it choose between giving up its nuclear program and turning a new page with America and the world, or risk “crippling sanctions.” The Egyptian outlook on Iran, however, is more pessimistic.
Cairo has historically had thorny relations with Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, the leader of which called for toppling Mubarak. Additionally, Egyptian security forces uncovered Hezbollah cells inside Egypt in April, which pushed officials in Cairo into thinking that Iran’s regional aspirations go far beyond acquiring nuclear weapons, believed by many to be a prerequisite for securing the regime’s survival. Egyptian officials told their American counterparts this week that a long-term confrontation with Iran will be dangerous, but that it may be the only option.
On Iraq, America and Egypt have shared an agenda since 2004, as the two countries, among other regional players, have kept in close coordination to help curb the once-spiraling violence in the country. During his meeting with Obama in the White House, Mubarak, a veteran of Middle Eastern politics, argued that Iraq was on the right track, and the two men debated on how to move forward in the country.
But the conversation did not end with Iraq. Syria, again, also came up. So far, several American delegations have visited Damascus to convince their Syrian counterparts to cooperate on closing their borders with Iraq to stop the flow of insurgents between the two countries.
But despite all the promises, the flow of militants has not ebbed, and violence, though slowed, still rages in Iraq.
And although while Mubarak was in the White House, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki was meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus to discuss forming a joint committee to address the problem, Mubarak has been in power in the region long enough to realize that for the Syrians, “security committees” mean very little. Unless Syria detaches itself from Iran and sits down with leaders in more moderate states, such as Egypt and Saudi, all of its promises to the US will remain hollow.
Finally, while the US budget for the promotion of democracy in Egypt and Syria, among other Arab countries, has been substantially slashed, both Egyptian and American officials still believe that democracy in Lebanon should remain a priority for the world. There will be no bargains over Lebanon’s independence, Egyptian and US officials agreed, and the two states will do all they can to empower the democratically-elected government in Beirut.