President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak: It gives me pleasure to welcome Mr Putin on his visit to Cairo. We have held important talks, very positive talks that reflect the solid foundation of the bilateral relations between our friendly peoples and countries.
We discussed a broad spectrum of international and regional issues during our talks today, especially the situation in the Middle East. We also discussed the question of expanding our bilateral relations and strengthening the cooperation between our two countries in all different areas. I was pleased to note, during our talks, that our views coincide on the majority of questions raised that are of mutual interest to our countries.
Our views also coincide on the need to maintain the positive dynamic achieved during the summit at Sharm al Sheikh in February. We both agree on the need to get the peace process moving forward after a four-year period of stagnation, and we also agree on the need for the Israeli and Palestinian sides to keep to the understandings and the obligations they reached through taking steps towards each other and without putting obstacles in the way. We emphasised the need and importance for the two sides to coordinate the Israeli withdrawal from some of the settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a first step and an integral part of the Roadmap in the aim of achieving a fair, all-encompassing and lasting settlement in the Middle East in all areas of the peace process.
Given that Russia is an active participant in the “Quartet” of international mediators and also a member of the G-8, and given Russia’s great authority on the international stage, I informed President Putin of my intention to continue supporting Egypt’s and Russia’s role in the peace efforts directed at providing support for the Palestinian National Authority and for improving economic and humanitarian conditions for the Palestinian people.
Regarding the situation in Iraq, our positions also coincide in that we take a positive view of the talks that have taken place there, the formation of the Iraqi National Assembly and the progress made in building up the country’s new institutions through a peaceful political process that, we hope, will involve all sections of Iraqi society, which is now on the road to restoring its independence and sovereignty. This is the road that will ensure the Iraqi state’s unity and territorial integrity and open up the way for rebuilding the national economy. We are also unanimous in our view that the United Nations should play a central part in helping to rebuild Iraq’s constitutional and legislative institutions and providing the necessary stability for the peace process and the national economy to develop successfully.
During our talks today we also discussed the situation in Darfur. We stressed the need to settle the crisis through a national reconciliation between the entire Sudanese people based on the vision of a united and indivisible Sudan. We discussed the situation in Syria and Lebanon and we welcome the positive developments in this area. We also talked about other issues affecting the region and were unanimous on the need to prevent the emergence of new hotbeds of tension in this very sensitive part of the world.
Examining the general situation in the world, we exchanged our views on strengthening the role of the United Nations and the need to build a multilateral and multi-polar world as a lawful alternative to unilateral action. We paid particular attention to reform of the UN in the aim of strengthening its role and heightening its authority. We agreed on the need for the international community to join forces to fight terrorism, prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and take mutual steps to ensure fair and all-round settlement of international conflicts, especially in the Middle East and on the African continent.
Concerning the bilateral relations between our friendly countries, President Putin and I discussed the constant increase in our cooperation in various fields, above all in trade, tourism, investment, industrial, petrochemical and gas cooperation and also cultural, scientific and technical cooperation. I told President Putin of our sincere desire to increase our cooperation in many areas, and not just in those I mentioned, and this desire was received with understanding. In particular, we agreed to accelerate the organisational work on establishing the first Russian-Egyptian university in our country, a step that will undoubtedly help to strengthen our cultural and scientific ties. We also agreed to continue consultations on diverse regional and international problems of mutual interest.
I am pleased to be able to take this opportunity of President Putin’s visit to our country to give the name of a Russian engineer, the late Nikolai Malyshev, who designed the Aswan High Dam, to one of the streets in Aswan as a sign of our gratitude and an expression of our pride in the cooperation and solid friendship between our countries and our peoples.
President Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen, dear Mr President.
First of all, I would like to thank our Egyptian friends for their hospitable reception and for a constructive and interested approach to our talks.
This visit to Egypt is the first stage in my first visit to the Middle East and it was not a chance decision that my visit begins here. Modern Egypt is a dynamically developing country that is working consistently to strengthen its foreign policy and economic positions.
We have great respect for Egypt’s independent and responsible positions on the most important regional and international issues. We have always sought to expand our cooperation with as promising and influential a partner as Egypt. For me personally, it was very useful to listen to the Egyptian President’s views on international issues and, of course, above all on developments in the regional situation.
I rate very highly the results of my talks with the President of Egypt, Mr Mubarak. Our talks took place in a spirit of frankness and understanding. We discussed a wide range of problems, bilateral and regional questions and a broad spectrum of international issues. We adopted a joint declaration in which we confirm our desire to intensify the partnership between our two countries. We informed each other of our views on current international problems and the tasks of reform and modernisation facing the Middle East countries. Of course, we also discussed in detail the Middle East peace settlement issue, the situation in Iraq and in other parts of the world. We once again confirmed our desire to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the according United Nations resolutions and the Roadmap that has been approved by the UN Security Council.
I agree with President Mubarak on the need to stay firmly committed to the agreements reached at Sharm al Sheikh. This will also be on the agenda for the “Quartet” of mediators at a meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow on May 8, along with the participation of the Quartet special representative, Mr James Wolfenson. Furthermore, we could propose holding a conference in Moscow in autumn with all the interested sides taking part, including the Quartet. I plan to discus this proposal with our colleagues, who, I think, are all interested in making headway in the peace process in the Middle East.
Both Russia and Egypt showed that they are set on expanding our multifaceted bilateral ties. One of the most important aspects of our relations, of course, is our business partnership. We have achieved a considerable amount in this area over recent years through our combined efforts. Developing our economic ties at a rapid pace is an important stage. Over the last year alone our economic ties have doubled. This is without counting tourism. Last year, 650,000 Russian tourists visited Egypt. We estimate that this cooperation brought the Egyptian treasury more than $300 million. Russian machine-tool industry products and energy sector equipment are making a return to the Egyptian market. Our companies are working fruitfully together to modernise some of the Egyptian economy’s most important facilities.
We have serious, substantial potential for developing our trade and economic relations. It is symbolic that a Russian-Egyptian business forum is taking place today under the aegis of the Russian-Arab Business Council and the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of both countries. This shows how interested the business communities in both our countries are in developing direct contacts.
During our talks we also discussed such issues as military-technical cooperation and intensifying our cooperation in culture, science, education and training. Russia confirmed its interest in carrying out the project to establish a Russian-Egyptian university in Cairo.
In conclusion, I would like once more to say how pleased we are with the results of these talks. I am sure that this Cairo summit will become an important milestone in strengthening Russian-Egyptian cooperation. And of course we are looking forward to a reciprocal visit by President Mubarak to the Russian Federation. I was very happy to hear today the somewhat unexpected but all the more pleasing news of your decision to name one of your streets after our compatriot who made a great contribution to developing the Egyptian economy and the Egyptian energy sector.
Thank you very much.
Hosni Mubarak: I would like to add that President Putin has an open invitation to visit our country at any time.
Vladimir Putin (in Arabic): Thank you.
Question: This is a question for both presidents from Egyptian television. President Putin, you mentioned the possibility of holding an international conference in Moscow. Could you give some more detail on what this conference’s agenda would be and how it would fit in with other, similar, international ideas, including with the “Quartet” stepping up its work.
A question for Mr Mubarak: Are you optimistic about fulfilment of the agreements reached at Sharm al Sheikh?
Vladimir Putin: Our proposal to hold this conference in Moscow is motivated precisely by the understanding we share of the need to step up the work of the international mediators. As I mentioned before, the members of the Quartet have agreed to hold a meeting of their foreign ministers on May 8. But we think, and Mr Mubarak agreed with me, that the international community should be paying constant attention to the situation in the Middle East, ensure the enforcement of the decisions taken at international level, in this case, by the United Nations, and create the conditions for the parties involved to reach compromises.
We thought it would be useful for high-level experts to meet in Moscow this autumn and we will hold preliminary talks with our partners on the level of participation and the agenda. Of course, we will also discuss these questions with the Israeli leadership, with Prime Minister Sharon.
Hosni Mubarak: First of all, I would like to say that we were able to bring Arial Sharon and Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian National Authority] together in Sharm al Sheikh. But before the summit took place, we held preliminary contacts with the Israeli leadership and came to an understanding that certain agreements would be reached that would be positively received by public opinion in Palestine and the Arab countries. Unfortunately, Israel, frankly speaking, is not now keeping to these agreements that were reached. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should definitely resume their fulfilment, because he does have a certain authority. Now, when the Prime Minister of Israel and the head of the Palestine National Authority have reached agreement on a whole package of issues, there can be no selective approach to their fulfilment.
I would like to illustrate my words with a little excursion back in time when, at the beginning of the 1990s, during my contacts with Itzhak Rabin, I told him that isolated hiccups could take place in the peace process when terrorists from this or that side undertook action to undermine the process, but that it was very important not to let such action influence the progress of the peace process overall. Ten days later, a major terrorist act was committed in Tel Aviv. But Itzhak Rabin found the courage to appear on Israeli television and declared that Israel would continue the peace process as if there was no fight against terrorism, and would fight terrorism as if there was no peace process. I think that Ariel Sharon is a politician able to fulfil the agreements reached, and this must be done in order to calm public opinion in Palestine and in the Arab countries.
I would like to add on this issue that Abu Mazen has taken some very bold steps, including reforming the entire structure of the special services. But Israel says this is not enough. I think that Abu Mazen deserves all our support. We need to provide him with our support through concrete action, because there is no other leader at this time who could do so much for Israel. To give one small example, on the issue of prisoners, a very important and painful issue for every Palestinian family, I think that the Israeli Prime Minister could make a gesture to the Palestinian side on this issue and it would be a sign of Israel’s support for the steps that Abu Mazen is undertaking. Abu Mazen is a completely different kind of person. He is completely different to Arafat. In similarly difficult situations, Arafat could appeal directly to the Palestinian people and take a certain offensive line of action towards Israel, and he would then achieve certain results. But Abu Mazen is a different kind of politician. He makes a commitment and he fulfils that commitment. This is why he needs active support from the other side, and I therefore appeal to the Israeli leadership to give him their support in order to keep the peace process going. If Israel is genuinely interested in peace, it should fulfil all the agreements reached.
Question: A question for both presidents, above all for Mr Mubarak. Could you give your assessment of Russia’s role in reaching a settlement in the Middle East. As we all know, terrorists operate on the principle of inter-connecting vessels. Do you not think that they are now establishing their bases on Iraqi territory?
Hosni Mubarak: We consider Russia to be a great power. Whether we like it or not, this is a fact and no one can deny it. Russia has all the possibilities it needs to pursue an active policy worthy of a great power. We have complete confidence in Russia.
There was a period when Russia faced internal difficulties. These difficulties have now been completely overcome. I think that Russia, today’s Russia under President Putin’s leadership, can play a worthy and active role in the Middle East.
Regarding the second question, I consider that violence in Iraq is continuing, to our great regret, because this is a country that is unique in its makeup. As we know, Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, all live there. Sunnis held power there for a certain period. Now there is a struggle for power going on there between the different communities and ethnic and religious groups. I think, therefore, that it will be a long time yet before resistance and violence there come to an end. One of the reasons for the current situation is that the country’s police force and army were dissolved. This has become a real disaster for Iraq. Active efforts now have to be made to build up a new army and create effective national forces able to maintain security and law and order.
I made this point quite frankly to the Americans. I said to them that they can win the fight in an open battle, but the most serious and dangerous battles are in the cities streets. Today we are seeing that it is in the cities that resistance is continuing. Unfortunately, as I said, this violence will not end.
I think that the fact that the Palestinian issue still remains to be settled is another factor that has a direct influence on the rise and spread of extremist organisations. At some point it will become very clear for all those who have not realised it that without finding a solution to the Palestinian problem, it will be impossible to rein in violence and terrorism. In this respect, I stress once again that building a regular army and effective police force that can maintain security in the country is a vital part of this process.
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that we are also very concerned by the continuing and increasing violence in Iraq. At the same time, we assess highly the results of the elections that took place there and we hope that they will serve as a good platform for making progress towards peace in Iraq. Of course, we note the presence in Iraq of foreign mercenaries, people we call terrorists. But settlement in Iraq should be made up of several fundamental components, and this is not linked to international terrorism.
Several issues need to be resolved on the basis of agreements reached during the election process. A fair and worthy solution needs to be found for adequate participation in running the country for all the different forces, ethnic and religious groups. Agreement needs to be reached on the fundamental principles that will form the foundation for the future constitution and the country’s state organisation. Agreement also must be reached on the timetable and conditions for a withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq and work needs to be done at the same time to rebuild Iraq’s own security forces. If these issues are not settled, the conditions will remain in place for terrorists to infiltrate Iraq.
For our part, we intend to cooperate with the Iraqi leadership and the Iraqi people. Russian specialists are returning to Iraq and working there in various areas, including in the energy sector and the social sphere. We plan to expand our efforts to support the Iraqi people.
Question: This is a question for both presidents. Could you share, please, your views on the idea of reforming the Middle East and bringing more democracy to this region?
Hosni Mubarak: The reform process that began under President Sadat is continuing in Egypt today. Of course, the reforms we are pursuing today are different in nature to those undertaken during the Sadat years when the foundations were laid for a multiparty system and an active and free political life. Now, we have a free press in our country and we recognise the supremacy of the law. There are other aspects of authentically democratic life. As these democratic processes become an integral part of life for the Egyptian people, we will continue to move forward in this direction. The same goes for economic reform of our country, of our society. We have managed to create a market economy. Incidentally, as a result of this, as a result of the nationalisation of certain sectors of the economy in their time, we faced considerable problems, but we are firmly committed to continuing reform of our society.
By the way, how do you imagine a process of complete and total democratisation in Saudi Arabia? But there, too, some steps are now being taken to democratise local councils, for example. But for understandable reasons I would not begin talking about complete and all-round democratisation of political life there. Democracy is a set of well-known principles and values that should be made a part of each individual country’s life in accordance with its traditions and cultural and historical heritage.
Vladimir Putin: I would like to pick up precisely where the President left off. Democracy is the form of government and society that is most effective in the modern world. No one would dispute this. But democratic institutions and principles cannot be introduced effectively to this or that territory without taking national traditions and history into account. Democracy is not a good that can simply be exported from one country to another, as it then immediately becomes a tool the former country can use to gain advantages over the latter. Genuine democracy can be established only as a result of the internal development of society itself. Thank you.
Hosni Mubarak: Democracy in the United States is not the same as in Britain, France, Germany or Italy, though they all share a common foundation. Thank you.