US Diplomat Meets New Egyptian President; Set to Visit Israel

A senior American official held a “very constructive meeting” with new Egyptian Islamist President Mohamed Morsi during a current visit to the region, according to a US State Department press release. Among other things, the US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Morsi discussed “regional security issues,” US support for the Egyptian economy and the rights of Egyptian religious minorities and women.

The US press statement did not explicitly say if Egypt’s long-standing peace deal with Israel was addressed in the meeting. The treaty’s long-term status has been a matter of concern to Israel following the change of leadership in Egypt.

Burns’ trip to the Middle East is set to include scheduled visits with senior Israeli officials and top Palestinian leaders. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been stalemated for more than two-and-a-half years, despite occasional contacts between the sides. That has included an exchange of letters earlier this year between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Burns will hold meetings with Israeli officials, as well as take part in the two allies’ strategic dialogue, “where US and Israeli officials will consult on a range of important regional issues of mutual interest,” according to the statement. Burns will also meet with Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad on the Palestinian side.

In Monday’s press briefing, a transcript of which was released by the State Department, the US did not give any official hints if a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was imminent or under serious discussion.

The sides last held official direct peace negotiations in 2010, towards the end of a nine-month partial Israeli settlement construction freeze intended as a gesture to jumpstart the talks. However, after the freeze reached its schedule end, the Palestinians suspended talks when Israel chose not to extend the moratorium on settlement housing construction.

A round of discussions was brokered by Jordan in January to try and revive the negotiations, but to no avail. The Palestinians attempted last year to side-step the talks as a means to statehood and went directly to the United Nations to seek full state membership, but their bid ultimately bogged down in bureaucracy when the US and others opposed it.

Burns is also visiting Yemen this week. According to a press statement from the US State Department, he is set to travel from there to Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Burns has much to discuss with Israel and the Palestinians beyond the peace process, including the ongoing conflict in Syria that has recently impacted neighbors Turkey and Lebanon. Burns is scheduled to visit the Lebanese capital of Beirut in this trip, which ends on Friday.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, July 10, 2012)