Egypt denies report that it accepts Trump’s Jerusalem recognition

Cairo lambastes NY Times article that said intelligence officer briefed TV presenters on the issue, suggesting the officer does not even exist

US President Donald Trump welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to the West Wing of the White House, April 3, 2017. (Mark Wilson Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)
US President Donald Trump welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to the West Wing of the White House, April 3, 2017. (Mark Wilson Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

Egypt’s government on Sunday denied and harshly criticized a New York Times report that said Cairo has quietly sought to convince the Egyptian public to accept the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite publicly opposing it.

The newspaper said in a report published Saturday that it obtained audio recordings in which an Egyptian intelligence officer, speaking with influential talk show hosts, asked them to downplay the significance of US President Donald Trump’s decision.

“The Times’ report contains allegations regarding Egypt’s position on the Jerusalem issue mentioned in the so-called ‘audio recordings.’ It is inappropriate for The New York Times, a reputable newspaper, to publish such allegations,” the Egyptian government said in a statement.

“Egypt’s positions on international issues are not derived from alleged leaks from an anonymous source. Rather, Egypt’s positions are conveyed by the President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and in official statements as well,” the statement added.

The statement pointed out that Egypt sponsored a UN resolution opposing the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite threats by Washington to reduce aid.

In the report, an officer identified as Cpt. Ashraf al-Kholi, is reported to have briefed TV hosts, saying  that widespread unrest over Washington’s move would “not serve Egypt’s national security interests,” as it would “revive the Islamists and Hamas. Hamas would be reborn once more.”

The statement noted that two of the talk show hosts mentioned in the report no longer have shows and never presented any news regarding the Jerusalem decision. The statement also said that news presenter Azmi Megahed, the key on-the-record interview for the Times report, denied remarks attributed to him by the American paper.

An Egyptian newspaper vendor holds copies of local newspapers fronted with a picture of President-elect Donald Trump with Arabic headline that reads, “Trump era”, November 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

The government statement also said there is no evidence that al-Kholi is actually a member of the security services.

“The Times’ report claims that Captain Ashraf al-Kholi is an officer with the Egyptian General Intelligence without presenting its readers with the slightest evidence as to the truth of this piece of information or that a person by this name exists in the first place,” the statement said.

In the Times report, al-Kholi allegedly told the news hosts, “How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?”

“This thing will become a reality. Palestinians can’t resist and we don’t want to go to war. We have enough on our plate as you know,” al-Kholi allegedly said regarding the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi speaks during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt, on December 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

The Times reported that Egyptian intelligence regularly briefs TV hosts on messages leaders want them to communicate to the public, and the recordings showed the officer’s conversation partners were all very willing to accommodate the official viewpoint.

In response to Trump’s move, Egypt publicly said the decision was a violation of international resolutions on the city’s status. It also reflected concern regarding the impact of the US move on the stability of the region and regarding its “extremely negative” impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Israeli leaders have long said Jerusalem has been quietly cultivating its ties with Arab states, in the face of commons threats posed by Iran and Islamist extremism.

In his December 6 address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as merely based on reality.

Bitterly rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which is now boycotting the Trump administration, the move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

An Israeli report Friday said the US, furious over the Palestinians’ reaction to Trump’s Jerusalem recognition, has frozen $125 million in aid to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency.

For its part, the US denied the Channel 10 report, saying a decision on UNWRA funding was still “under review.”

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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