ROUNDUP: Egypt blasts new Israeli foreign minister

ROUNDUP: Egypt blasts new Israeli foreign ministerCairo  - Egyptian politicians on Thursday unleashed a volley of criticism against newly appointed Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for his statements on Egypt and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In an official statement sent to reporters earlier on Thursday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry called Lieberman's rejection of the Annapolis peace process on Wednesday "the first setback for efforts toward peace" under the new Israeli government.

Addressing Israeli diplomats for the first time as foreign minister on Wednesday, Lieberman said the Annapolis process had "no validity whatsoever."

The 40 countries that attended the 2007 conference at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis agreed on the importance of establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and called for immediate negotiations on a final agreement, including on such issues as the status of Jerusalem, borders and refugees.

Lieberman said Israel would abide by the 2003 "Road Map," which called for the Palestinians to rein in militants before negotiations began on a final-status agreement.

"He's a crazy man, stubborn and rigid," said Ayman Nour, the former leader of the liberal opposition Ghad Party, who said he had met Lieberman on the sidelines of the
1991 peace conference in Madrid.

"But it's good that Likud are back," Nour told the German Press Agency dpa. "Labour appears more friendly and peaceful on the outside, but all the agreements we've struck have been with Likud."

In an interview with the host of al-Mehwar television's "48 Hours" talk-show, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said he would not shake Lieberman's hand until he retracted such previous statements as threatening to blow up the High Dam at Aswan and saying that Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak could "go to hell" if he didn't visit Israel.

"As long as Lieberman's positions stay the same, if we see each other by chance at a meeting, I will keep my hands in my pockets," Aboul-Gheit said in an interview taped on Thursday morning for broadcast that night, according to a transcript obtained by the German Press Agency dpa.

"The Egyptian foreign minister must uphold the dignity of Egypt," Aboul-Gheit said. "Whoever insults the dignity of Egypt must face the consequences and accept responsibility for his words."

"I have met with more than one Israeli foreign minister, and I have welcomed them in Egypt. But never before have any of them said anything like what (Lieberman) said against Egypt," Aboul-Gheit continued.

"Lieberman showed his true colours when he threatened to attack the High Dam," Essam al-Arian, a senior member the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition party, told dpa. "This is the era of Zionist arrogance, power and dominance that does not face resistance from the Arabs."

"Egypt objects to Lieberman because of his statements about Mubarak," said Emad Gad, who studies Israeli politics at Cairo's government-funded al-Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies.

"But (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has given Egypt assurances that Lieberman has changed and become a responsible person," Gad told dpa.

"Egypt will not boycott the Israeli government, but it will not invite Lieberman to Cairo," he predicted. (dpa)