Egypt's Mubarak cancels Washington visit

20/05/2009 - 21:12

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, grieving over the death of his 12-year old grandson, cancelled his trip to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington next week, the White House and Egyptian officials said on Wednesday.

Mubarak was not seen at the funeral of Mohamed Alaa Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Tuesday. The boy, the eldest of two children of Mubarak's elder son Alaa, died on Monday evening two days after the onset of what the presidency called a "health crisis."

Egypt's ambassador to the U.S., Sameh Shoukry, said he informed the White House that Mubarak would postpone his visit due to the tragic death of the president's grandson, according to Egypt's state-run news agency MENA. Shoukry said Egypt hopes to reschedule the visit to a date suitable for both presidents.

The Egyptian president was due to meet with Obama during the trip scheduled from May 25 to 27, to discuss ways to advance the Middle East peace process and in particular to update Washington on progress in intra-Palestinian talks being hosted in Cairo.

Obama is due to visit Egypt next month, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign to give a major address to Muslims from a Muslim capital during the first few months in office.

Egypt is a staunch regional ally of the United States, which has provided it with billions of dollars of military and other aid since Mubarak's late predecessor Anwar Sadat signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979, the first Arab state to do so.

Mubarak has spoken positively of Obama, saying he is different from his predecessor George W. Bush, whose Middle East policies created tension in the Cairo-Washington relationship.

In the past, Mubarak visited Washington regularly, but stopped doing so during Bush's time in the Oval Office.

Mubarak told Israel earlier this month it must work towards a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and stop building settlements or risk a militant resurgence and forfeit chances of improving Arab ties.

He made the comments in an interview with Israeli media after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Netanyahu has not publicly endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state.

Mubarak, 81, has been at Egypt's helm since Sadat's assassination in 1981, making him Egypt's longest-serving leader since Mohamed Ali Pasha of the 19th century.

Mubarak won a fifth six-year term as president in 2005. Analysts said at the time they expected the Mubarak family to start work on installing Mubarak's younger son Gamal, 44, as his successor. Gamal has no children.

(Writing by Alastair Sharp; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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