Israeli PM seeks to reassure Egypt before U.S. trip

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt Mon May 11, 2009 6:14pm BST

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem in this May 10, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem in this May 10, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to reassure Egypt about his commitment to Middle East peace talks on Monday in preparation for his visit to the White House on May 18.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear that advancing Palestinian statehood would be a priority for his administration but has yet to say how he intends to do so. Egypt, like Washington, backs a two-state solution.

"We want, as soon as possible, to resume the peace talks with the Palestinians and I hope they will indeed resume in the coming weeks," Netanyahu told a joint news conference after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Netanyahu has yet to publicly endorse creating a Palestinian state and did not do so in his comments in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Jordan's King Abdullah told Monday's Times of London the United States was promoting a peace plan for the Middle East in which the entire Muslim world would recognize Israel.

A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu would travel to Jordan on Friday for talks with the Jordanian king.

Since taking office in April, Netanyahu has promised to seek economic, security and political talks with the Palestinians but has not committed to talks on territorial issues.

"The prime minister expressed his government's commitment to achieving peace, and I told him that Egypt expects positive gestures that reflect this commitment," Mubarak said.

Mubarak reiterated Egypt's call for creating a Palestinian state next to Israel and also said Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land hindered the peace process.

Egypt, the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, is often one of the first points of call for newly elected Israeli leaders. But Netanyahu's choice of foreign minister has already grated with Cairo.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stirred controversy last year when, as an opposition lawmaker, he said Mubarak could "go to hell" if he did not visit Israel.

Egypt has been trying to broker reconciliation between Hamas Islamists and the Fatah group of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But several rounds of talks in Cairo between the two groups have made no visible progress.

Ezzedin Choukri-Fishere, a visiting professor at the American University in Cairo, said it was important for Israeli prime ministers to go to Washington having already met leaders in the region.

"It makes you look good in Washington," he said.

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr, Writing by Edmund Blair in Cairo; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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