1:50pm

Thu September 29, 2011
Middle East

Americans Seek Answers As New Egypt Emerges

As Egypt tries to figure out a path forward following its revolution, the country's foreign minister was in Washington this week attempting to reassure the Obama administration that all is going well.

For the Americans, the two big issues are the status of Egypt's elections and the state of Egypt's relations with Israel. There are unanswered questions on both fronts.

Egyptian protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo earlier this month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she got Egypt's foreign minister, Muhammed Kamel Amr, on the phone in the middle of the night to help resolve the crisis. The demonstrators caused extensive damage, and Israel pulled out its ambassador and its Israeli staff, but the episode could have been even worse.

Clinton thanked Amr for his efforts, and for Egypt's pledge to abide by the 1979 peace treaty with Israel that has come under increasing strain.

"The minister has reiterated Egypt's support for the Camp David Accords, which is essential for stability and of course essential for Egypt's growth, prosperity and peaceful transition," Clinton said.

An official with the Egyptian delegation said this topic came up in all of the minister's meetings in Washington. Amr reassured everyone that in this transitional period the interim rulers will abide by all treaties. But, he added, he couldn't speak for future elected governments.

Call For Resumption Of Peace Talks

The only thing Amr said publicly was that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should resume with a clear timeline and framework. The talks broke down a year ago, and in a sign of the Palestinian frustration, they have sought recognition as a state at the United Nations. The U.S. has made clear it will block the move.

"Israeli illegal settlement activities continue to be an impediment in the road for peace, and we would like to see them stopped," said Amr.

The Egyptian foreign minister had to walk a tight line, said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a new book called, The Struggle for Egypt.

"The government wants to send a signal to the Israelis that this is a new era," he said. "But at the same time, they don't want to create problems for Egypt here in the United States, knowing how carefully administration after administration and members of Congress look at the quality of Egyptian-Israeli relations when making decisions about aid to Egypt, and particularly military aid to Egypt."

U.S. Aid Could Meet Resistance

For decades, the U.S. was willing to send aid to Egypt as long as it maintained peace with Israel, and other issues never stood in the way. But now the Senate Appropriations Committee has made clear that aid should be withheld unless the secretary of state certifies that Egypt is staying on the path toward democracy, respecting human rights and free speech — and maintaining peace with Israel.

Clinton says she opposes setting such conditions.

"We don't want to do anything that draws into question our relationship or our support," she said.

She did raise some questions, however, about the interim government's decision to keep a controversial emergency law in place until next year. Cook, of the Council on Foreign Relations, says that's just one of the issues raising alarms in Washington. He predicts that parliamentary elections that begin in November will be messy and the election law is "barely intelligible." But these are things Egypt has to work out.

"There is no question the new Eygpt is going to diverge from the United States," Cook said. "It's going to be a different Egypt from the previous 30 years, but there's really nothing Washington can do about it."

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