U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Egypt to keep open communication with Israel after the new Cairo government deployed forces to the Sinai Peninsula, the State Department said Thursday.
Clinton on Wednesday spoke by telephone to Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr as unease grew in Israel over President Mohammed Mursi’s deployment of troops in the Sinai, which was demilitarized under a 1979 peace treaty.
“This call was in keeping with a series of contacts that we’ve had in recent days with both Egyptians and Israelis encouraging both sides to keep the lines of communication open between them, to talk directly about any issues of concern,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
Clinton encouraged a policy that “first and foremost strengthens Egypt’s security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors in the region as a whole,” Nuland said.
Egypt sent troops into the Sinai to clamp down on Islamist guerrillas who killed 16 border guards on August 5. Mursi has since exerted control over the powerful military, dismissing top officials including the defense minister.
While Israel also wants a crackdown on Islamists, the Maariv newspaper said Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted Egypt to withdraw tanks amid fear that its neighbor would keep forces in the Sinai indefinitely.
In a message transmitted via the United States due to Israel’s lack of ties with Egypt’s new leaders, Netanyahu demanded that Egypt stop deploying troops without Israeli cooperation in line with the treaty, according to Maariv.
Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, hails from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is critical of Israel, but he has pledged to honor all his country’s international treaties.
Clinton visited Egypt last month as the United States tries to encourage a smooth transition in the Arab world’s most populous country, whose ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak was a close U.S. ally.
In the telephone call, Nuland said that Clinton was “strongly supportive” of talks between Egypt and the International Monetary Fund, whose managing director Christine Lagarde held talks in Cairo on Wednesday.
“Egypt’s facing a very difficult time economically in the aftermath of the revolution last year. They’ve got approximately $12 billion in a financing gap now,” Nuland said.
“So we are encouraging the International Monetary Fund in its visit, and we think it’s important for the IMF to work with the Egyptians on how to fill this gap,” Nuland said.
Clinton, who is on vacation, also placed telephone calls on Wednesday to senior officials in Iraq and Libya, the State Department said.
In her conversation with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Clinton spoke both about developments inside the country and the bloodshed in neighboring Syria, Nuland said.
Nuland declined to go into specifics but said that the United States has encouraged Iraq to ensure that its territory is not “abused” by Iran to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.