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Secretary Clinton in Cairo

Zachary Fisher

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt for her first official visit since the election of President Mohammed Morsi, whom she met with for the first time Saturday. While in Cairo, Clinton also met with Egypt’s top military official, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, and addressed the media with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr. Clinton discussed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, economic development, and current political deadlock with officials.

While the Secretary of State urged Cairo to adhere to its peace treaty with Israel during her short visit, a more dubious commitment was expressed by Foreign Minister Amr during their joint press conference. Amr stated that Egypt would uphold the peace treaty if Israel would withdraw to the 1967 borders — a statement that evoked no response from Clinton. Last year, Obama became the first U.S. president to formally support the policy of two states based on the 1967 lines with land swaps, but not in the context of maintaining the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. According to scholar Jonathan Schanzer, Egypt’s new policy comes from a literalist reading of the 1979 peace accords, which urge a return to the 1967 borders but mostly emphasize stability between Israel and Egypt. As he notes, Cairo is “redefining the de facto terms under which the peace agreement has existed. The new government is looking to establish itself with its domestic base” and is attempting “to flex a little bit of muscle here.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at Cairo’s Presidential Palace. (Photo: AP)

Clinton’s non-response is a reminder of the Obama administration’s policy towards the new Egypt, and perhaps the changing Middle East. Earlier this month, President Obama invited Morsi to visit the White House in September — without preconditions or a firm understanding of how Cairo will treat the 1979 peace treaty, or Hamas for that matter. Indeed, Egypt’s new president has yet to clarify whether or not he will uphold Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state. Morsi is an Islamist affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood — the organization that spawned Hamas and supports terrorism. Neither recognize Israel’s right to exist. To that end, Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, met with Morsi in Cairo on Thursday where he hailed a “new era” in bilateral relations, an ominous sign of the shifting alliances in the Middle East.

Clinton’s visit serves as the White House’s de facto endorsement of the new Islamist Egyptian government. Undoubtedly, it will send the message across the region that the U.S. will have relations with any form of government, no matter its composition or political platform and regardless of previous commitments made to Washington. It remains to be seen whether the White House can pursue its goal of rapprochement with the Muslim world while maintaining its commitments to ally Israel. If the recent past is any indicator, this approach does not appear to be increasing regional stability.