Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi faces several hurdles and must pass a few hard tests before President Barack Obama receives him at the White House on Sept. 23. Not surprisingly, both Cairo and Washington have been sidestepping firm confirmation of their date. Morsi’s spokesman Yassir Ali said that the president would head to Washington after attending the United Nations General Assembly session in New York to see "senior officials" during a three-day trip. He added that the meeting with US President “is not yet confirmed."
No official word has come from Washington.
Morsi’s aides explain that Obama and Morsi have arranged to meet on Sept. 23, but both prefer to keep a low profile so as not to draw unfriendly fire. They refer to Israel’s requests to Washington, first disclosed by debkafile on Aug. 22, to do something about getting Egyptian forces and tanks out of Sinai, where they are parked in breach of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
This detailed disclosure, which showed up Egypt’s promised counter-terror offensive against 6,000 al Qaeda-linked Salafi gunmen holed up in Sinai, as never having taken off, (See HOT POINTS below) raised a major rumpus among the three governments.
Bidding for US aid coupled with independent policy initiatives
Cairo released the news of President Morsi’s forthcoming trip to Washington Wednesday, Aug. 22, shortly after Christine Lagarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, arrived in Cairo. Morsi and Prime Minister Hisham Qandil put before her an application for a $4.8 billion loan at 1.1 percent repayable over five years following a 39-month grace period.
Both appreciated that her visit was set up on Washington’s recommendation and that Cairo’s hopes of a further US gesture of a half-a-billion dollar grant depended on Ms Lagarde’s impressions of the state of the Egyptian economy and her report on their ability to manage its recovery.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources report that that is not the only hurdle on the way to the Sept. 23 rendezvous, not to mention the Egyptian president’s false start in his relations with Israel.
His call for a new “contact group” of Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to help resolve the Syrian crisis was puzzling. Was it an independent Cairo initiative? Washington officials dealing with Syria asked. Or did it come from Riyadh or even Tehran?
At first sight Morsi’s plan appeared to be taking the secret Saudi-Iranian talks to resolve their differences by a non-aggression treaty (see separate item in this issue) up to a higher level. Wherever it came from, it would have the effect of cutting the United States out of the Syrian equation and expanding the roles of regional powers, including Turkey and Iran.
Is Morsi going shopping for Chinese arms
Washington gained some insight into the Egyptian president’s ambitions from a full transcript of a conversation featuring his contact group proposal he held recently with a high-ranking Arab figure: “We’ve seen how the Americans, the Saudis, the Turks and the Iranians failed to resolve the conflict in Syria,” he said. “I think Egypt can succeed where they failed."
What some American officials fear, our sources report, is that Morsi will apply the rapid-fire impulses he demonstrated in sweeping Egypt’s military junta out of his path to achieving quick foreign policy rewards.
They don’t understood why he is stopping over in Beijing on his way to the 118-member Organization of Non-Aligned Nations summit opening in Tehran August 26. Is he trying to show Obama that he is not necessarily dependent on America for a supply of new arms and emulating Saudi Arabia in shopping for Chinese weapons as an alternative to US hardware?
Another possibility is that Morsi wants to enlist China to his "contact group" with Egypt, Turkey and Iran. If so, he would be welcomed with open arms for granting Beijing an important breakthrough to a key strategic role in Middle East affairs.
That role would be worth its weight in cash and no doubt gain Egypt generous Chinese economic assistance, in the same way as Russia paid for Middle East influence at the height of the Cold War in the Sixties and Seventies by funding the Nasser regime in Egypt.
A close US watch on his conduct in Tehran
The Egyptian president will be watched closely by American officials to see how he comports himself in Tehran. Diplomatic relations between Egypt and the Islamic Republic of Iran were severed 29 years ago and ever since relations have swung between rocky and outright hostile. If he announces their unconditional resumption and the reciprocal reopening of the two embassies, he will be judged to be conducting a two-faced policy of phony smiles to win openhanded American financial aid, while concentrating on building up Egypt’s preferred ties with US rivals, primarily China and Iran.
That test will show where the Muslim Brotherhood’s President’s real affinities lie.