Middle East

Bush in Egypt for Last Stop on Middle East Trip

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President Bush is in Egypt for discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Egypt borders Gaza, home to the militant faction Hamas, and there is concern about gun smuggling.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush is in Egypt today, the last stop of his more than weeklong tour of the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been a major theme throughout the region, and it'll come up again today.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the president and joins us now to talk about it.


MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So President Bush is in Egypt, and doing what exactly?

KELEMEN: He'll be meeting the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who's been a key player for a very long time in the Middle East peace process. And he'll be talking to Mr. Mubarak about his recent visit to Israel and the West Bank, and about his other stops on this trip. The other issue that always comes up with the Egyptians is Egypt borders Gaza - the Palestinian territory that's under the control of Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group. And there's a lot of concern about gun smuggling into Gaza from Egypt.

MONTAGNE: Generally speaking, how would you say President Bush's Middle East peace plan has been received by his Arab hosts throughout this tour? Just to remind listeners, he has previously met with leaders of the Gulf - allies like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - and then Saudi leaders before going on to Egypt.

KELEMEN: Well, he told reporters yesterday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that the first question that comes to the mind of these leaders is why is Mr. Bush so optimistic? And is Mr. Bush going to spend the kind of time and effort in order for this to work? So I think, mainly, he's facing a lot of skepticism about it. He said to reporters that those of us involved in the peace process have a lot of work to do to instill confidence in the people. And he's trying to rally Arab support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but also asking them to reach out to Israel.

MONTAGNE: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who's traveling with the president, yesterday was asked whether it's overdue for Arab states to reach out to Israel. And here's a clip of what she said.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. State Department): We have believed that it will be important for the regional states, the Arab states, to do everything possible to encourage the process, and that, yes, there should be efforts to reach out to the Israelis as this process goes forward. But this will move at different speeds for different countries. We understand that.

MONTAGNE: Secretary of State Rice.

Is it realistic for the Bush administration to expect that it might get actual assurances from this trip?

KELEMEN: I don't think they did there in Saudi Arabia for sure. She sort of looked very disappointed when she was sitting next to Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, at that news conference last night. And he said, I don't know what kind of outreach we can offer the Israelis but to offer a peace plan for the region. The Saudis do have their peace initiative, and it talks about normalization of relations with Israel, but after a just peace.

MONTAGNE: And there in Egypt, will President Bush be broaching the question of human rights, which is an issue in Egypt in which his administration had pushed for earlier in his time in office?

KELEMEN: Well, Secretary Rice says that he is committed to these issues, that he does raise them in all of his private talks. But even she, you know, when she asked about it in Saudi Arabia, was very vague. So they talk about it in broad terms, but you don't hear them getting into very much detail, particularly in public.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michele Kelemen, traveling with the president and speaking to us from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Thanks very much.

KELEMEN: My pleasure.

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