Kerry meets Sisi as Egypt seeks MidEast peace role



CAIRO, EGYPT, Dave Clark- US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Wednesday to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, after Egypt called for a renewal of the Middle East peace process.
Even before Sisi had raised the issue, Kerry had planned a visit to discuss the crises in Libya and Syria and to raise concerns about Egypt's harsh crackdown on dissent.



But the top US diplomat is also keen to hear more from the Egyptian leader about how he intends to help broker peace between his Israeli and Palestinian neighbours.
"He's interested in hearing a bit more directly from the president about what role he has in mind," a senior US official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Tuesday, in a televised speech, Sisi urged Israelis and Palestinians to seize what he said was a "real opportunity" and hailed his own country's peace deal with Israel.
In 1979, Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel after years of conflict, and today it remains an influential player in the region.
Washington believes the only way to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a negotiated settlement resulting in two states side-by-side within recognised borders.
But the US does not believe the time is yet ripe to resume a direct dialogue between the sides, preferring instead to lobby both to make confidence building measures to reduce violence and calm tensions.
Some in the international community are becoming frustrated with that approach and France -- and now Egypt -- are pushing for a quicker resumption of efforts to seek a final deal.
There is sympathy for that goal in Washington, and an acceptance that there is a risk that the process could become unsalvageable if it is allowed to fester, but there is also caution about pushing too fast.
"We've said repeatedly that we believe negotiations are the only way to solve the problem. We've also said that we're not ourselves trying to resume negotiations at this point," the official said.
"The secretary is very interested in hearing some more about the details of what President Sisi has in mind," he added.
- Settlement construction -
Supporters of the peace process have been dismayed in recent months by Israel's ongoing construction of settlements on Palestinian land and by Palestinian knife and gun attacks on Israelis.
Both these actions stir anger and boost support for hardliners on both sides of the dispute, making an eventual negotiated deal harder to imagine.
"I think we've also made very clear our concerns about some of the steps that have been taken on the ground that call into question the viability of a two-state solution," the US official said.
"That will also be part of our discussion here."
Kerry spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by telephone on Monday and to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas earlier in the week.
There have been persistent but unconfirmed reports in Washington that US President Barack Obama is considering making a major speech to emphasise and better define US support for the two-state solution.
But -- with barely eight months left in office -- the president, even if he decides to act, has little time and space to tackle a challenge that frustrated so many of his predecessors.
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Wednesday, May 18th 2016
Dave Clark
           


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