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Viewing cable 09CAIRO65, CODEL DORGAN VISIT TO EGYPT DECEMBER 13-14 REF: A. CAIRO 2542 B. CAIRO 2435 C. CAIRO 2502 D. CAIRO 2505 Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO65 2009-01-14 09:09 2011-02-09 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
DE RUEHEG #0065/01 0140936
P 140936Z JAN 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 000065 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2018 
SUBJECT: CODEL DORGAN VISIT TO EGYPT DECEMBER 13-14  REF: A. CAIRO 2542      B. CAIRO 2435      C. CAIRO 2502      D. CAIRO 2505  Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)  

1. (SBU) SUMMARY:  Senators Byron Dorgan (ND), Thad Cochran (MS), Kent Conrad (ND) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) visited Cairo on December 13-14.  All of their GOE interlocutors asked them to convey to the incoming Obama Administration that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Palestinian statehood must be an early priority, in order to make progress on all other challenges facing the region. President Mubarak expressed his hope that the Obama Administration "would be better than the present one" in being "more inclined to listen to your friends."  Senior Ministry of Defense officials said that conditioning U.S. assistance to Egypt on political and other reforms hurts bilateral relations, and requested that the U.S. return to the Camp David ratio of 3 to 2 for military assistance to Israel and Egypt.  Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman described Egypt's mediation role between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas and obstacles to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Over lunch, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit highlighted the importance of Egypt's "soft-power" in blocking those like Iran who seek to destabilize the region.  Senator Whitehouse had a separate meeting with Gamal Mubarak, Deputy Secretary-General of the governing National Democratic Party, who reviewed economic and geopolitical issues facing Egypt (SEPTEL).  The CODEL also discussed economic and political challenges in Egypt with a group of civil society activists and political oppositionists (ref A).  END SUMMARY.  

--------------------------------------------- PRESIDENT MUBARAK: "LISTEN TO YOUR FRIENDS" ---------------------------------------------  

2. (C) During an hour and a half long breakfast at the Presidential Palace on December 14, President Mubarak expressed his hope that the incoming Obama administration "will be better than the current one."  He complained that the Bush administration has pushed Egypt to "open up" politically, "like you did with Hamas.  Would any country do such a thing?"  Instead of pushing such things, Mubarak said, the U.S. should appreciate more the role Egypt plays in regional stability.  We are doing our best to solve the situation in Gaza, Mubarak noted.  Egypt opened its border at Rafah for several days recently, he explained, to allow Hajj pilgrims to exit Gaza, but Hamas would not allow anyone to leave.  "We have asked them to get along (with rival Fatah), but they never will."  

3. (C) The U.S. needs to "listen to its friends" in the region, Mubarak advised Senator Dorgan.  When George Bush Sr. was president, "he listened to my advice.  But his son does not."  Mubarak said that when President Bush Sr. had called and asked what Mubarak thought about invading Iraq to get to rid of Saddam Hussein during the First Gulf War, Mubarak had told him not to because "you won't be able to get out and you will drown in Iraq."  Mubarak said he had tried to convey the same message to the current administration, only to be ignored.  "I told (Vice President) Cheney three or four times" that Iraq needed a strong leader and that it would be unwise to remove Saddam Hussein; doing so would only "open the gate to Iran." Unfortunately, he said, the Vice President did not listen to his advice.  

4. (C) By making these mistakes, the U.S. has empowered Iran, whose goal, according to Mubarak, is "to control the entire region."  "They are out to convert Sunni countries to Shia."  Mubarak surprisingly equated Iraq to Iran: "They are two sides of the same Shia coin." He added that Iran is waiting for the U.S. to leave Iraq in order to "fill the vacuum" and emphasized that Iran is the source of funds for many extremist groups in the region, such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Mubarak said that the U.S. must do more to understand the region culturally and religiously; the best place to start, in Mubarak's opinion, is to "listen to your friends."  When Senator Dorgan asked Mubarak who those friends were, "Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, of course," was his answer.  The Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) states are also friends of  CAIRO 00000065  002 OF 004   the United States, but "small and scared" of both Iraq and Iran.  

5. (C) In an unusual, if oblique, reference to U.S. assistance to Egypt and calls for political reform, Mubarak told Senator Dorgan that "Egypt will never accept pressure.  However, we are willing to be persuaded."  He then asked after the health of Congressman David Obey, seen by the Egyptians as the main force behind Congressional attempts to condition U.S. assistance to Egypt.  "He is a good man," Mubarak noted.  "But he has been causing us trouble for the last three years."  

--------------------------------------------- ------------ DEFENSE ESTABLISHMENT FOCUSED ON REGIONAL CHALLENGES AND US MILITARY ASSISTANCE; PORT SECURITY --------------------------------------------- ------------ 

6. (SBU) Assistant Minister of Defense Major General Mohamed al Assar, Chief of the United States Division at the Ministry of Defense, and General Al Murad, Director of Military Intelligence, articulated the history of U.S.-Egyptian military cooperation. They provided an update on Egypt's current contributions to peacekeeping operations in Africa, with 800 troops deployed to UNMIS in Southern Sudan and plans to deploy up to 2,400 to the hybrid UN-AU force in Darfur. Al Assar told the senators that the principle of conditionality in U.S. assistance to its allies, such as Egypt, is a source of frustration.  He called on the Senate to temper conditionality requests from the House of Representatives.  Al Assar emphasized that the entire Arab world hopes that President-elect Obama will focus on resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the beginning of his term.  He also asked that the U.S. return to the traditional "Camp David ratio" of 3 to 2 for military assistance to Israel and Egypt.  Al Assar claimed that recent increases in assistance to Israel threatened the fragile military balance between Israel and Egypt and had a negative impact on Egypt's ability to maintain stability in the broader region.  

7. (SBU) Al Assar thanked the senators for Foreign Military Funds (FMF) to Egypt and asked that the new administration maintain the current FMF level of $1.3 billion per year without conditioning, to allow Egypt to continue to modernize its army and equipment.  He explained that as the percentage of U.S.-origin equipment in the Egyptian military increased, the amount of FMF necessary to sustain and upgrade that equipment will also increase, thereby reducing funds for new purchases.  Senator Cochran noted the importance of further developing Egypt's naval forces as well as its army, in order to address growing security challenges in the region.  

8. (SBU)  Senator Dorgan noted that container security programs are a vital part of the U.S.'s counter-terrorism strategy and thanked the GOE for its cooperation to date in implementing a Container Security Initiative (CSI) program.  He asked Al Assar about delays in moving forward on MEGAPORTS, a Department of Energy initiative, in Egypt. Al Assar said that Egypt was committed to making CSI work in Egypt through direct work with the DHS/Customs and Border Protection, and will ensure that 100% of containers headed to the U.S. are scanned and secure.  He noted that the issue of MEGAPORTS rests with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is a different matter because it addresses broader non-proliferation issues.  

9. (SBU) In response to Senator Whitehouse's question regarding piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Al Assar said that Egypt's economy could be hurt significantly by a downturn in Suez Canal transits and shipping related to fears of piracy.  He stated that Egypt is willing to fully cooperate with any international mission under a UN flag (refs B & C).  

--------------------------------------------- -------------- INTELLIGENCE CHIEF ON EGYPT'S ROLE IN THE PEACE PROCESS AND COUNTER-TERRORISM --------------------------------------------- --------------  

10. (C) General Omar Suleiman, chief of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) discussed the three remaining obstacles to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Israeli settlements, refugee returns and radicalization amongst Palestinians and Israelis.  He noted  CAIRO 00000065  003 OF 004   that Israel has to be convinced that settlements are detrimental to its own security and to the viability of a two-state solution.  Suleiman told the Senators that Israel's current proposal involves keeping 6.8% of West Bank territory, which he said would prevent the formation of a contiguous Palestinian state; the Palestinian side is unlikely to accept giving up more than 2% of the West Bank.  He stated that Egypt is doing its best to convince Palestinians that there cannot be wide-scale Palestinian refugee returns to Israel itself, beyond limited family reunification.  Suleiman emphasized to the Senators that Israel needs to empower Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on this issue; Abbas has to be able to set conditions of eligibility for Palestinian return to Israel and the ability to offer Palestinians some number of slots for returns in order to win the public's trust and willingness to make other concessions. According to Suleiman, Israeli Foreign Minister Livni is misguided to push the Palestinian Authority (PA) to say that no one is eligible to return to Israel.  Regarding radicalization amongst Israelis and Palestinians, Suleiman said that Palestinian resistance organizations can use Israel's security measures in the West Bank and heavy-handed treatment of Palestinians to foster discontent throughout the Arab world.  He noted that recent settler violence against Palestinian communities in the West Bank eroded President Abbas's position and credibility and has to be curbed.  

11. (C) Suleiman told the Senators that Egypt has a three-pronged approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: first, it has worked since April of 2008 to calm tensions between Israel and Hamas forces in Gaza in order to keep a truce in place, second, Egypt has ended the separation between the Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas by creating opportunities for dialogue between them, and lastly it is supporting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by improving his ability to serve the Palestinian public and by weakening Hamas.  According to Suleiman, GOE's effort to undermine Hamas includes breaking up smuggling networks into Gaza, destroying tunnels into Gaza from the Sinai and frequent coordination with Israel. Suleiman said that Syria and Iran are working to prevent the reconciliation of Palestinian actors and told the Senators that Hamas officials decided not to come to inter-Palestinian negotiations hosted by EGIS on November 11 in Cairo because Iran and Syria encouraged them to delay until a new U.S. administration was in place (ref D).  

12. (C) Suleiman ended by telling the Senators that the tragedy of the September 11 attacks against the U.S. unified the world against terrorism.  He said that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, economic growth and better employment prospects for the young are key elements to reducing terrorism in the Middle East.  

------------------------------- LUNCH WITH THE FOREIGN MINISTER -------------------------------  

13. (C) Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit told the senators that the U.S. has an important role to play in the region and must rely more on diplomacy and cultural outreach to defend its interests.  Egypt, and other moderate Arabs are confronted with forces and states that seek to destabilize the Muslim world and undermine the status quo.  In confronting Iran's revolutionary, Shi'a expansionist agenda, he said Egypt maintains a firm policy of blocking and thwarting Iranian initiatives.  Military action against Iran would be "disastrous" as it would mobilize the whole Muslim world to rally to the Iranian cause.  Egypt is a vital partner to the U.S. because of its "soft power" which is exercised throughout the region by Egyptian professionals, intellectuals, educators and by the great weight in the Arab world of Egypt's population and history of leadership.  The U.S. and Egypt share a strategic interest in countering radicalism and subversive forces.  

14. (C)  Aboul Gheit identified the Muslim Brotherhood as the "vanguard of radicalism" and highlighted the long history of radical Islam acting as a destabilizing and threatening force in Egypt and the region.  Iran has made common cause with Hamas.  Both Shi'a and Sunni extremists are working to thwart efforts to reach a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  U.S. and moderate Arab interest in creating a stable and secure region rests on reaching a just solution to the Palestinian issue.  The  CAIRO 00000065  004 OF 004   Foreign Minister stressed the importance of the new U.S. Administration not neglecting the Arab-Israeli conflict which remains the key to regional stability.  

--------------------------------------------- Senator Whitehouse Meeting with Gamal Mubarak ---------------------------------------------  

15.  (C)  During his meeting with Senator Whitehouse, NDP Assistant Secretary General Gamal Mubarak covered impact of economic crisis on Egypt and Egyptian plans for the near term.  Mubarak also reviewed his overview of the region. Septel will provide details of this conversation.  15. (U) The CODEL cleared this message. SCOBEY