Lieberman controversy endangers Istanbul meeting

Today's Zaman (Link) (October 24, 2009)

A foreign ministerial-level meeting of the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean planned for next month in Istanbul is in danger of cancellation due to Egypt's opposition to the attendance of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, news reports have said.

An Egyptian diplomatic source declared that Cairo �did not send invitations to the Israeli minister, whose statements in the past have clouded relations with Egypt,� Ennahar, an online English-language daily based in Algiers, reported on Thursday.

Cairo �accepts, however, that he should be represented,� the same source was quoted as saying, on condition of anonymity, while adding that the presence of Lieberman is also not desired by other Arab capitals.

Last year, Lieberman had said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could �go to hell� if he continued to refuse to visit Israel. Nonetheless, earlier this year, Mubarak received hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks on the deadlocked Middle East peace process.

An Israeli official, speaking with Agence France-Presse, meanwhile suggested that Lieberman was not the problem.

�The issue from the beginning has been the refusal by Egypt and the Arab countries to discuss joint cooperation projects with Israel,� the Israeli official said.

This past year, due to the Gaza crisis, Union for the Mediterranean meetings scheduled between January and April were postponed. Israel launched a military offensive code-named Operation Cast Lead in late December 2008 and January 2009, which led to more than 1,400 deaths in Gaza, including hundreds of civilians. Eventually work was resumed, first by senior officials and later by ministers.