US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, on Tuesday, denied his involvement in any direct negotiations with the Egyptian authorities on the release of the American-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel, who was accused by Egypt of being a spy.
During a meeting with a number of journalists at the American Embassy in Cairo, Panetta said he had heard news reports about Grapel’s release.
Panetta said he met on Tuesday with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egyptian intelligence chief Major General Murad Mowafi, and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.
Panetta said he stressed the importance of maintaining strong military relations with Egypt and assisting the process of a democratic transformation in Egypt, as well as the importance of lifting the Emergency Law.
Panetta expressed his wish for a “peaceful” transition of power for the sake of democracy in the light of the dramatic developments in the region.
“I requested that the state of emergency be lifted and was told it would happen as soon as possible,” said Paneta noting that the lifting of state of emergency was important if the Egyptian people were to hold free and fair elections.
Panetta expressed his concern over the security situation in Sinai, especially following the series of natural gas pipeline explosions in the area. He said he urged Tantawi to deal with this situation in order to secure the natural gas lines in Sinai, adding that “the eruption of any clashes in Sinai will cause real problems in the region”.
Panetta explained that the military authorities are responsible for helping the Egyptian people switch to a new political future through free and fair elections. He went on to say that the achievement of stability requires a government that responds to the people.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador in Cairo Anne Patterson said that no one knows when the SCAF will will hand over power. She said these decisions change on a daily basis. Patterson said Panetta’s visit encourages the transition to democracy.
Regarding the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, Panetta said that “the Egyptian officials confirmed their commitment to the Convention and at the same time expressed their commitment to maintaining security in Sinai”.
Translated from the Arabic Edition