Morsi receives praise from Obama, US commentators
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just completed one of her most active rounds of shuttle diplomacy as the nation's top diplomat. The former first lady insists she is ready to step away from 20 years of high-profile politics by resigning her post early next year.
Copyright Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2012
But since Tuesday, she has been on a mission that could become a major part of her legacy. Just as she appeared to be enjoying a trip to Asia alongside US President Barack Obama on Air Force One, the president cast her into the morass of the Middle East. The decision to deploy Clinton was made after Israel amassed ground troops along its border with Gaza and Hamas continued to rain down rockets on Israel, including Tel Aviv (although about 85 percent were deflected by a high-tech US-funded interception system called Iron Dome.)
When Wednesday's cease-fire was announced in Cairo less than 20 hours after Clinton arrived in the region, she looked confident, dressed in a green suit - the same colour as in the Hamas flag - standing alongside Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
She praised Egypt for its work in brokering the cease-fire, adding that she looked forward to working with Amr and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on the next steps toward "a comprehensive peace for all the people of the region."
Her dash through the region began with a meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Tuesday. Early Wednesday, she met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah followed by talks in Cairo and another meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama has worked the telephones on a daily basis since the day violence escalated, talking sometimes several times a day with Netanyahu and Morsi. He insisted that Egypt had to play a key role in de-escalating the conflict, and Morsi has received praise not only from Obama but also from US commentators for his role.
"Morsi has largely operated as the leader of Egypt, rather than the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood," Elliott Abrams, top Mideast adviser to president George W Bush, was quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal. "That has been a positive." Obama's decision to send Clinton was not without risk. Whether it will result in significant change is unknown, but it appears to signal a shift to a more activist role by the Obama administration. It contrasts starkly with Obama's "lead from behind" approach in the Nato air campaign that toppled the Libyan dictatorship of Moamer Gaddafi.
As tensions eased after the cease-fire took affect, Clinton looked toward the goal of reaching a durable peace in the volatile region, and the relationship she is building with Morsi could be the key. "Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace," she said in Cairo. "There is no substitute for a just and lasting peace."
But as the Gaza conflict underscores, the Arab Spring means today's Egypt is very different from the one with which the US closely worked for more than 30 years. The Clinton mission seems to show that the US now recognises that this fundamental change mandates an equally fundamental reassessment of Cairo-Washington ties. As the world knows even with a cease-fire, the animosity between the Palestinians and Israelis runs deep. There is a level of unease with Morsi that still must be overcome, and some in US Congress have wanted to cut back on aid to Egypt.
But Morsi could now be on the verge of reversing the negative perception in the US that has accompanied his Muslim Brotherhood affiliation. Exactly where the diplomacy will lead is an unknown. Obama is often criticised for his failure to date to visit Israel as president. His reluctance to engage is a "stain on his legacy," said Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel, on broadcaster NBC.
He could redeem himself, however, Indyk said: "The first thing he has to do is decide whether he's going to reinvest in the effort to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict." The suggestion has been made that Obama appoint a special envoy - and the name most often mentioned is Clinton. But the Clinton in mind is not the one now active in the Middle East. It is in fact her husband, the former president, who at least one former Mideast diplomat George Mitchell insists is "highly respected in the region."
Senator John McCain was one of the first to suggest Bill Clinton for the role. "We need a person of enormous prestige and influence to have these parties sit down together as an honest broker," McCain said on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday. He joked that Clinton would hate him for floating his name for the difficult task. But if he accepts, he could always rely on his wife for counsel.