MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
As President Obama prepares for his speech next week in Cairo, he will hold some high-level meetings with Middle East leaders. The day before his speech, the president plans to visit Riyadh for talks with the king of Saudi Arabia. And this week, Egypt's foreign minister is in Washington. He's here in place of President Hosni Mubarak, who canceled because of the death of his grandson.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit stopped by our studio this morning to talk about Egypt's role in the tangled Middle East peace process, and about the president's upcoming speech.
Mr. AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Foreign Minister, Egypt): It is an extremely important and constructive move because it shows that the American president, the moment he assumed responsibilities and his administration is taking off, he recognizes the need to reconcile differences - that there is something wrong in the relationship. Or else, he wouldn't have thought of coming to the region.
But for him to have decided to come to the region in person to address a billion - and a couple of hundreds of millions of people - then he knows, and he feels that something went wrong - how to mend things with the Arab and Muslim. I think it will, if the message is well-constructed and it is a forward-looking message, I think it will serve all of us well: Muslims, Christians, Jews, as well as the rest of the region.
NORRIS: The president will be heading to Cairo soon. Right now, you're in Washington. And Egypt plays a critical role in the peace process and particularly in trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What message do you bring to Washington?
Mr. GHEIT: We are coming to tell the American administration that we want to see and to hear about the American thinking, the American plan, whatever America would suggest to the parties to push forward for a peace settlement. We will stress the need for the concept of the two-state solutions, that there has to be a Palestinian state living side by side and living in peace and security for both - Israel and Palestine.
That in order to do so, we have to launch our ideas, meaning, the American ideas on the end game. How are we, in America, see the final settlement, how it will end. Or are we to be dragged into negotiations between the two parties, the Palestinians and the Israelis 'til eternity.
NORRIS: Now, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was recently in Washington to meet with President Obama. He met recently with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In those meetings, Mr. Netanyahu has not yet expressed support for the two-state solution. Is that a deal breaker if Israel does not agree to the two-state solution?
Mr. GHEIT: I think it is in the interest of everybody - Israel, the Palestinians, the American, the region and international community - that Israel would accept the concept of the two states because…
NORRIS: But Israel's not there yet.
Mr. GHEIT: Well, I think it is their interest to be there. Then why is it so? Because if Israel persists and continues on that policy of dominating and controlling the Palestinians inside the historical lands of Palestine, in a certain point in time, that will not be far in the future, possibly around the year 2020, Arabs and Palestinians in the historical lands of Palestine will exceed in numbers the Israelis.
If that happens, and if it is really a democratic state and not a state that would function in a manner that a group of people would dominate the majority of the people or we would have an apartheid, then in a certain point in time, there will be elections and the Palestinians would win. Would the Israelis accept a Palestinian prime minister ruling on them with a Palestinian party winning elections? Because it will have to be done through a democratic process.
So what we suggest to them, only natural, divide the land and allow both of you to live in his own lands, and let's hope that things would proceed. You would have Israel, and you would have Palestine.
NORRIS: Is it possible for the peace process to move forward if Israel does not accept the two-state solution?
Mr. GHEIT: I do not think that the result would be helpful. If they reject that suggested solution, then what remains to the Palestinians? Nothing, unless the Israelis and the Palestinians, through agreement, would opt for unitary states or a state composed of two people.
We, in Egypt, think that the only viable, constructive solution is to proceed to establish the two states and to work - help them and allow the Middle East to feel that the emergence of a Palestinian state is easing the tension, and allow the Middle East to catch up with the rest of the world. The Middle East is tormented and obstructed by that problem, the Palestinian problem. That is, we think, the core of everything bad in this part of the world.
NORRIS: This is my last question. If President Obama were to sit down with you and, say, your counterpart in Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, and he suggested that both of you make certain concessions in order to move the peace effort forward, would Egypt come to that table willing to make those concessions?
Mr. GHEIT: We don't have a problem with Israel. We have relations with Israel - diplomatic relations and all kinds of relations, and we meet Israeli officials all the time. So the problem is not between Egypt and Israel.
NORRIS: But there are tensions there.
Mr. GHEIT: No, no, not at all. We engage the Israelis in all accounts. Maybe we have a problem with the current foreign minister. We have a problem with the current foreign minister because he pronounced himself in a certain language against Egypt that alienated very much the Egyptian people. But the problem of Israel is not Egypt. The problem of Israel is their relationship, and the way they are treating the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
NORRIS: Foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Thank you very much for speaking with us.
Mr. GHEIT: Thank you very much.
NORRIS: Ahmed Aboul Gheit is the foreign minister of Egypt.
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