Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi reportedly told his Israeli counterpart that he wanted to work for peace in the Middle East, in the first official message sent by the Arab state’s new Islamist leadership to the Jewish state.
But an emerging news report late Tuesday stated that Mursi's presidential office denied sending or recieving messages from Peres, the Egypt-based al-Masry al-Youm reported.
In a copied image of the letter, obtained by AFP following its release by the office of the Israeli president, Mursi wrote that he planned to get the Middle East process “back to its right track.”
“I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East peace process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including (the) Israeli people,” Mursi said in the letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Politicians in Israel had expressed alarm in private over the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi in June’s presidential vote and fear that over time their country’s peace treaty with Egypt could be eroded.
An Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP news agency that Mursi’s letter was “a general message with a positive spirit, but did not indicate any new direction” in bilateral relations.
On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with Mursi and stressed the need for strong military cooperation between the U.S. and its longtime Middle East ally.
Washington insists that the new leadership respect peace accords concluded with Israel, and has expressed concern over security problems in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Israel has repeatedly called on Cairo to improve security in the Sinai, charging that growing lawlessness since Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow has allowed militants to smuggle arms into the neighboring Gaza Strip and carry out attacks across the border into the Jewish state.
Meanwhile, Panetta affirmed U.S. support for the country’s democratic transition and stability.
“My message today was consistent with our previous conversations –the U.S. strongly supports an orderly, peaceful and legitimate transition to a democratic system of government here in Egypt,” Panetta, who also met with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, told reporters.
“I believe (Tantawi) was critical in overseeing a peaceful, free and fair election. I commended him and the SCAF and their positive role in the process,” he said.
Mursi and the SCAF – which ruled Egypt after a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak in February last year – have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamist took office in June.
But Panetta said he was “pleased to hear Field Marshal Tantawi’s firm commitment to the transition to full civilian rule.”
For the first time since the ouster of the monarchy in 1952, Egypt’s head of state has not emerged from military ranks.
Panetta stressed “the importance of promoting a broad-based coalition that is critical to the success of the government here in Egypt”
“I was convinced that President Mursi is his own man and that he is the president of all the Egyptian people and that he’s truly committed to implement democratic reforms here in Egypt,” Panetta said.
The election of Mursi, who emerged from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, had raised fears, particularly among secularists and Christians, that personal freedoms would be stifled.
But Mursi has repeatedly vowed to be a president “for all Egyptians.”
“It’s my view that President Mursi and Field Marshal Tantawi have a very good working relationship and are working together for the same ends,” Panetta said.
“It’s clear that Egypt, following the revolution, is committed to putting in place a democratic government and a democratic government that represents all of the constituencies and interests here in Egypt.”
The Pentagon chief stressed the need for strong military cooperation between the U.S. and its longtime Middle East ally.
“There is continuing support for a strong military to military relationship, because security for Egypt is important for the stability of this country as it implements democratic transition,” Panetta said.
“We have a history of working together in a cooperative way with the Egyptian military leadership we will continue to provide with whatever aid or assistance we can to try to help them,” he added. Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually in military aid.