December 2, 2010 / 4:08 PM / in 7 years

Egypt says may seek atomic arms if Iran does: leaks

CAIRO (Reuters) - President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed.

<p>Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak attends a meeting with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma at the presidential palace in Cairo October 19, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh</p>

A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable.

The cables revealed differences between Arabs. Qatar’s prime minister said Egypt was stringing out mediation talks between Palestinian rivals in the peace process for as long as possible.

The United States has condemned the leaks.

A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.

“Mubarak said that Egypt might be forced to begin its own nuclear weapons program if Iran succeeds in those efforts.”

A July 2009 cable quotes Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman telling U.S. officials that Iran was harbouring extremists, a hurdle to resuming ties severed for three decades.

Suleiman said Egypt was wary of Iran’s influence through its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies and its support “for Egyptian groups like (al-Gama‘a al-Islamiya) and the Muslim Brotherhood,” but that Iran could not “challenge the international community now”.

Suleiman advised against a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear capabilities, saying it would unite Iranians against the United States. He said Egypt was working to prevent Iranian funds to Hamas, worth $25 million per month, from reaching Gaza.

Suleiman said Egypt had sent a clear message to Iran that if they interfered in Egypt, Egypt would interfere in Iran, adding Egyptian intelligence was recruiting agents in Iraq and Syria.

“Now we have it on paper, in black and white,” independent Cairo-based analyst Issander El Amrani said of the cable.

A December 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv quotes Israeli security official Uzi Arad calling Egypt’s Foreign Ministry a “nagging problem” and accusing it of harming relations with Israel by pushing for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Egypt is often portrayed in the region as a docile U.S. partner, but analysts said the cables suggested U.S. officials could get frustrated with Cairo. The messages also confirmed well-known Egyptian positions, such as its wariness of Iran.

“The common impression is that Egypt does not oppose U.S. and Israel, and is too willing to oblige them. But the documents reveal non-Egyptian officials’ frustration with Egypt,” analyst Amr Hamzawy said.

Hamzawy, from the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said the cables confirmed what analysts had long suspected about Egyptian foreign policy on issues such as Iran and Hamas.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani was quoted in a February cable as telling U.S. Senator John Kerry that Egypt “has no end game” in efforts to reconcile Palestinian factions, and that “serving as broker of the talks is Egypt’s only business interest with the U.S.”

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said it had no immediate comment.

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