Israel wants Egypt's Islamist president to visit

JERUSALEM Tue Aug 28, 2012 10:55am EDT

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi smiles during a meeting with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, August 22, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi smiles during a meeting with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, August 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday he hoped Egypt's new Islamist President Mohamed Mursi would soon visit the Jewish state to back up his reassuring words.

Mursi told Reuters in an interview on Monday he would pursue a "balanced" foreign policy and indicated that Israel's peace treaty with Egypt was safe.

"We definitely hope to see President Mursi receive official Israeli representatives in the near future. We want to see him interviewed by the Israeli media. We want to see him visit Jerusalem as a guest of President (Shimon) Peres in Israel," the ultranationalist Lieberman told a legal conference in Tel Aviv.

Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement describes Israel as a racist and expansionist state. But the president resigned from it upon taking power after his election victory in June and he has avoided inflammatory language since.

Mursi's emphasis on balance in the interview with Reuters suggested he would seek a less explicitly pro-American role for Egypt in the region than under the ousted Hosni Mubarak. But he has also been at pains to reassure traditional allies.

Egypt and Israel made peace in 1979 after fighting four wars. Mubarak served for decades as a loyal U.S. ally and guarantor of Egypt's status as the first Arab country to sign a treaty with Israel. Relations have remained cool despite the treaty, which is deeply unpopular with many Egyptians.

Lieberman said Mursi's words of reassurance were pleasing but he needed to do more.

Without mentioning Israel by name, Mursi indicated that Egypt's neighbor had nothing to fear from a new military campaign in the Sinai Peninsula, which he ordered after gunmen attacked an Egyptian border post, killed 16 guards and tried to storm across the frontier into Israel.

"I was happy to hear what ... Mursi said on Egypt's commitment to peace with Israel, the Camp David accords and the fight against terror," Lieberman said.

"It's a very important message. But whoever speaks of peace and stability must understand that this can't just be abstract and hypothetical. Peace also has tangible expressions. Peace is not telepathic."

Lieberman drew a rebuke from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week for suggesting Palestinians should vote out their president to help revive peace efforts.

Lieberman urged the Palestinians to hold a long-delayed election to choose "a new, legitimate, hopefully realistic" leadership that can "bring progress with Israel".

Netanyahu swiftly distanced himself from the comments saying that they did "not correctly represent the position of the prime minister or of the government as a whole".

Peace negotiations have been suspended for nearly two years.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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