Egypt’s spy chief Abbas Kamel concludes high level visit to Washington

Mr Kamel met US intelligence chiefs and national security advisor Jake Sullivan

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan takes questions during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 7, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
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Egypt's powerful intelligence chief Abbas Kamel has concluded a high-level visit to Washington, where he met National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other senior US officials, The National has learned.

Mr Kamel’s visit, the most senior for an Egyptian government official since President Joe Biden took office in January, came at the tail end of a trip this month to Gaza, Israel, Libya and Sudan.

In Washington, senior sources told The National that Mr Kamel held talks with the Biden team on issues ranging from Gaza reconstruction, Libya's stability, counterterrorism and the Nile Dam dispute with Ethiopia.

He met with Mr Sullivan following close coordination between the two to broker the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel last month.

Those talks brought Mr Kamel’s role into prominence in the US capital, and earned Egypt’s President Abdul Fatah Al Sisi two calls from Mr Biden.

The visit also included meetings between Mr Kamel and William Burns, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the sources said.

In Cairo, Egyptian security sources said Libya, the disputed Nile dam and efforts to establish a permanent ceasefire in Gaza topped Mr Kamel's talks in Washington.

The spy chief is a longtime confidant of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi and his agency, the General Directorate of Intelligence, has for years been in charge of foreign policy issues with significant bearing on national security.

The Egyptian sources explained that part of his mission in Washington over the last two days was to sound out the Biden administration on how Cairo planned to move forward on some key foreign policy issues. They did not elaborate.

However, Mr Kamel’s trip came just days before Ethiopia was scheduled to go ahead with a second filling of its disputed dam, ignoring pleas by Cairo and Khartoum not to do so before a legally binding agreement on operating and filling the dam is reached.

Egypt also has been pressing for the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from Libya as part of its efforts to stabilise its western neighbour and eliminate the presence of militant Islamic groups in the North African nation.

On a visit to Cairo this month, the head of the Pentagon's Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, said Washington is concerned by Ethiopia’s actions as it relates to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Egypt fears the dam could cut its share of Nile waters, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs in its agriculture sector and disrupting its delicate food balance.

“Ethiopia’s behaviour is very concerning to us and we realise the importance that the Nile plays not just from hydration point of view, but also from the cultural and economic aspects,” Mr McKenzie told Egypt’s Nile TV, adding that Cairo has been practicing considerable self-restraint.

While the Egyptian delegation received assurances from the Biden administration on bilateral relations and the continuation of security and financial aid to Cairo, some questions were raised in Congress on Egypt’s human rights record.

In a statement, the co-chairs of Congress’ Egypt Human Rights Caucus Don Beyer and Tom Malinowski, urged Egypt to do more on the issue.

The two Democratic congressmen recognised the importance of the visit but said they hoped US officials would raise the issues of detentions and other abuses.

“We believe it will also be essential to raise persistent United States concerns about widespread human rights abuses in Egypt, and about ongoing Egyptian efforts to harass and intimidate American citizens and their families,” the statement said.

Mr Kamel’s visit coincided with another high-level trip. Aviv Kohavi, the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), also came to Washington.

A White House readout said Iran was high on the agenda in Mr Kohavi’s meeting with Mr Sullivan.

“The officials discussed the challenges to security and stability in the Middle East, including the threat posed by Iran’s malign activities in the region, and Mr Sullivan affirmed the President’s commitment to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon,” the readout stated.