Cablegate: Asd Vershbow's Nov 3 Meeting with Foreign Minister

Published: Sun 15 Nov 2009 12:12 PM
DE RUEHEG #2133/01 3191258
O 151258Z NOV 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 002133
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/03/2019
Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey per 1.4 (b) and (d). -- (C) During a November 3 meeting with Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit reviewed a broad range of regional security concerns from West Africa to Pakistan. He encouraged the U.S. to take a comprehensive approach to threats and said resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict would significantly bolster U.S. efforts in the region. -- (C) On Iran, Aboul Gheit expressed concern with the Iranian nuclear program and feared Arab countries would "pursue the same course" if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon capability. He said Arab countries would never accept a U.S. nuclear umbrella, so the only option was to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and convince Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). -- (C) On Sudan, Aboul Gheit cautioned against supporting Southern secession, saying any split would inevitably lead to violence that would spill over throughout the region. He urged the U.S. to "act decisively and soon" to avoid a complete North-South split. -- (C) ASD Vershbow welcomed the Foreign Minister's tour d'horizon of Egypt's view of the most pressing problems in Africa and the Middle East. He emphasized the Administration's approach to the region explaining that the U.S. views Iran -- specifically its nuclear ambitions, hegemonic aspirations and continued use of proxies Hezbollah and Hamas -- as the most serious regional threats. END SUMMARY ---------------- Regional Threats ----------------
2.(C) Aboul Gheit began the meeting with an overview of the many regional security threats that concern Egypt, noting that any threat posed a much greater risk to Egypt than to the United States. Egypt was "very concerned" with al-Qaeda's activities throughout Africa, including the proliferation of criminal activities like drug smuggling that financed terrorism. He noted that one of the greatest challenges to combating terrorism in North Africa was the inability of Morocco and Algeria to cooperate. Arms smuggling from Yemen and Somalia also threatened Egyptian security, he stressed.
3.(C) Aboul Gheit emphasized the need for a comprehensive solution to regional threats, saying that "a military solution will not suffice." He encouraged using a wide range of political, economic and development tools to address the root causes of conflict. He complimented the new U.S. Administration's approach to regional issues, but believed that America's "declining willingness to impose its will on Israel" would affect any strategic approach to the region. Aboul Gheit relayed a somewhat disillusioned view of U.S.-Egyptian relations saying, "We are convinced you often don't listen."
4.(C) Aboul Gheit viewed the Arab-Israeli conflict as a major impediment to U.S. regional efforts. "You must find a way" to a comprehensive peace agreement, he said, in order for Palestinians and Arabs to "view the U.S. in a better light." The U.S. needed countries like Egypt, he continued, to help convince the Arab people that the U.S. is "just and can apply its power and resources to help the region." ASD Vershbow emphasized that the U.S. was committed to restarting peace negotiations and erasing the impression that the West and the Islamic world were in conflict.
5.(C) Aboul Gheit offered advice on how the U.S. could better use its resources to assist Egypt and the broader Arab world. Modernization, schools with quality teachers and more facilities to support them are the key to earning credibility in the eyes of Egyptians. It is necessary for the people to see America is just, replacing the appearance in the news and television of Americans killing Muslim families in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Foreign Minister said, "Egypt is not about to disappear, it has been here for 5,000 years and will be here for 5,000 more. To gain the trust of the region, you should build schools and provide humanitarian aid. "The U.S. should work closely with Egypt to do this" he said. Aboul Gheit reiterated throughout the meeting that modernization and schools are the solution in the near and long term. ---- Iran ----
6.(C) Aboul Gheit feared that an Iranian nuclear weapon capability would "press" Arab countries to do the same, as "300 million Arabs would be sitting between a nuclear Israel and a nuclear Iran." He believed that no Arab country in those circumstances would accept a U.S. nuclear umbrella as a substitute for its own weapon. The only way to address the Iranian threat, he continued, would be for the U.S. to relinquish its "double standard" and encourage Israel to join the NPT or disarm. He also delivered a clear message supporting the "besieged" Palestinians, observing that if you "take care of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, you disarm the rest."
7.(C) ASD Vershbow stressed the destabilizing influence Iran exerted throughout the region. Diplomacy was the preferred course for addressing Iran's nuclear program, but he noted that Iran had already begun to back away from its commitment under the Tehran Research Reactor agreement of October 1.ASD Vershbow agreed that Iran's export of violence, terrorism and extremism greatly threatened regional stability and looked forward to increased U.S.-Egypt cooperation to address mutual concerns over Iran. During the following day's Military Cooperation Committee, Vershbow urged the Egyptian military to focus more on unconventional threats.
8.(C) Aboul Gheit doubted Syria would sever its relationship with Iran. "Iran offers them something," he said, including military and financial support. Aboul Gheit said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's legitimacy was based on confrontation with the West. The only way to convince al-Assad was to give him guarantees that no country could make, including regime survival and a permanent role in Lebanon. ASD Vershbow replied that the U.S. was realistic about its interactions with Syria and was operating on a "quid pro quo" basis. ----- Sudan -----
9.(C) Aboul Gheit was confident that the Darfur conflict could be "managed," but warned against supporting Southern secession, saying it would start a decades-long war in which "blood would replace the waters in Lake Victoria." He believed that Special Envoy Gration "recognized" the dangers of Southern secession, but feared that the Europeans would continue to push for self-determination. Given Sudan's "history of extremism," Aboul Gheit said countries must work together to ensure a "soft landing" and avoid a complete North-South split. There are dangers and risks involved with secession, he continued, saying that even billions of dollars in development "will not stop people from killing each other." He cited an example, saying 8 billion dollars were allocated to new roads, but only 1.5 miles were the result of the investment.
10.(C) ASD Vershbow noted that the international community was limited in its ability to influence Southern Sudan's decision on secession. The U.S. was prepared to support continued unity or a peaceful divorce, depending on the results of the 2011 referendum. Aboul Gheit opined that there could be no "peaceful divorce" in Sudan, but acknowledged that a "new package" may be needed from the government in Khartoum to "maintain the fictional unity" of Sudan, including some type of confederation. He questioned the ability of the South Sudan government to function on its own, saying that 8 billion dollars of investment in Southern Sudan had accomplished nothing. Aboul Gheit encouraged the U.S. to act "decisively and soon" with a clear policy of preserving some form of unity in Sudan. "When the U.S. conveys, people listen," he said. ------------- Other subjects -------------
11.(C) Aboul Gheit encouraged Special Representative Holbrooke to return to Cairo to discuss Egyptian-U.S. cooperation in Afghanistan. He said Egypt stood ready to help with "soft-power" projects, including training in several fields. On Yemen, Aboul Gheit opined that Yemen has to be supported, cautioning against outside entities such as the European Union mingling in internal Yemeni affairs. He cautioned against the use of kinetic strikes against terrorists since the collateral civilian casualties created anger on the Arab street and recruited more terrorists than were killed.
12. (U) This cable was cleared by ASD Vershbow. SCOBEY Scobey
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