Egyptian president meets with US Jewish leader ahead of White House trip
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Egyptian president meets with US Jewish leader ahead of White House trip

Sissi talks Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Egyptian-US relations with WJC President Lauder, a former Trump business partner

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi speaks during a press conference on February 18, 2017 (AFP/Simon Maina)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi speaks during a press conference on February 18, 2017 (AFP/Simon Maina)

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Sunday discussed US-Egypt relations, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and his upcoming trip to the White House with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

Sissi is slated to visit the White House to meet US President Donald Trump during the first week of April, and the peace process is expected to be one of the items on the agenda.

“The next stage requires strengthening… of Egyptian-American relations at all levels,” Sissi told Lauder, describing the current relations between Washington and Cairo as “close, extensive and of a strategic nature,” according to an Egyptian readout of the meeting published by the Turkish Anadolu agency

The meeting between Sissi and Lauder took place in the presidential palace in eastern Cairo, and was attended by the head of Egyptian intelligence, Khaled Fawzi.

Lauder, a US billionaire like the American president, is a former college classmate of Trump’s. The two did business together on a Trump-branded cologne in 2004, according to a report by the Forward.

Lauder came to the defense of the US president in January when a Holocaust statement put out by the White House failed to mention Jews.

“This is a personal meeting not related to the World Jewish Congress,” a spokesperson for the WJC said of the meeting with Sissi.

Donald Trump shakes hands with Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, after a meeting on December 28, 2016 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. (AFP/DON EMMERT)
Donald Trump shakes hands with Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, after a meeting on December 28, 2016 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. (AFP/DON EMMERT)

During the meeting, Sissi expressed a desire to “continue to contribute in a positive way to the creation of the atmosphere necessary for the resumption of peace negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides.”

The Egyptian president reaffirmed his call for a two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Sissi’s upcoming trip to the White House and his meeting with Lauder follow Trump’s recent wading into the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Earlier this month, the administration sent one of president’s top advisers to the region for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmout Abbas, and Jordanian King Abdullah II.

Lauder said Sissi’s upcoming meeting with Trump “is gaining in importance,” and shows the importance of “the development of a strategic partnership between the two countries… in light of major challenges facing the region, especially the threat of terrorism and the spread of political and security crises.”

Sissi met with Abbas in Cairo on Monday. The two leaders discussed Sissi’s upcoming meeting with Trump, and “coordinated their stances” on Palestinian issues, including the realization of a two-state solution to the conflict, the official PA news agency Wafa reported.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, Egypt, July 17, 2014 (AP/MENA)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, Egypt, July 17, 2014 (AP/MENA)

While Sissi was in the US for UN General Assembly meetings in 2014 and 2016, then-president Barack Obama didn’t extend him an official invitation.

In contrast, Trump and Sissi have quickly developed a more positive relationship. The two met on the sidelines of the UN meeting in September 2016 and both want to crack down on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Sissi was the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump on his election victory, and, despite leading a predominantly Muslim state, has refrained from speaking out against the US administration’s travel ban targeting six other majority-Muslim countries.

Washington’s annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt was briefly suspended under Obama in 2013, following the ouster of then-president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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