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Middle East

Israeli PM in Egypt, prepares for White House trip

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Egypt today for talks seen aimed at showing he can be a true Middle East peace partner before he heads to the White House on May 18.

President Barack Obama has made clear that advancing Palestinian statehood would be a priority for his administration, but he has yet to say how he intends to do so. Egypt, like Washington, backs a two-state solution.

Netanyahu has not publicly endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state. Since taking office in April, he has promised to pursue economic, security and political talks with the Palestinians but has not committed talks on territorial issues.

Egypt, the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, is often one of the first points of call for newly elected Israeli leaders. But Netanyahu's choice of foreign minister has already grated on Cairo.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stirred controversy last year, then an opposition lawmaker, by saying Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could "go to hell" if he did not visit Israel.

"The fact that the prime minister has decided to go to Egypt first is because of the importance he attaches to Egypt and Arab countries who have peace treaties with Israel," an Israeli official told Reuters shortly before Netanyahu left Israel.

Netanyahu will hold talks with Mubarak before returning to Israel later today.

Egypt's state news agency MENA said the talks would cover restarting peace talks and the need for "a solution based on establishing separate Palestinian and Israeli states."

Jordan's King Abdullah today told The Times newspaper that the United States was promoting a peace plan for the Middle East in which the entire Muslim world would recognize Israel.

Egypt has been trying to broker reconciliation between Hamas Islamists and the Fatah group of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But several rounds of talks in Cairo between the two groups have made no visible progress.

Ezzedin Choukri-Fishere, a visiting professor at American University in Cairo, said it was important for Israeli premiers to go to Washington having already met leaders in the region.

"It makes you look good in Washington," he added.