US presses Egypt on Sinai security

Associated Press
In this Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 photo, Egyptian soldiers secure the area as a bulldozer demolishes part of a smuggling tunnel on the Egyptian side of the Egypt Gaza border, as seen from Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. A senior Egyptian security official says that Egypt is carrying a slow-paced military operation aimed at uprooting militants from their strongholds in northern Sinai close to borderline with Gaza and Israel. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)
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In this Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 photo, Egyptian soldiers secure the area as a bulldozer demolishes part of a smuggling tunnel on the Egyptian side of the Egypt Gaza border, as seen from Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. A senior Egyptian security official says that Egypt is carrying a slow-paced military operation aimed at uprooting militants from their strongholds in northern Sinai close to borderline with Gaza and Israel. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is pressing Egypt to be transparent with Israel about its military movements in the Sinai as it cracks down on violence in the lawless desert area.

The State Department said Thursday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by phone with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr about the matter on Wednesday. It said the call was part of U.S. discussions with both Israeli and Egyptian officials to keep communications lines open. However, Clinton did not make a similar call to Israel.

The U.S. is reminding them of "the importance of working through the security challenges in the Sinai in a way that first and foremost strengthens Egypt's security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors and the region as a whole," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"We are interested in seeing strong security operations, but we are also interested in good communication among neighbors going forward," she told reporters.

Egypt has been building up its military presence in the Sinai since Islamic militants killed 16 soldiers on Aug. 5.

But Israel this week objected to Egypt's deployment of tanks in the volatile border area, saying it violates a landmark 1979 peace accord. The current spat is the biggest test of the 1979 deal since Egypt's Islamist president took power in June.

Although Israel is itself a frequent target of Islamic extremists based in Sinai and has welcomed the crackdown, Israeli officials say significant military moves by Egypt must be coordinated, giving Israel a veto of sorts over Egyptian security strategy.

Under the peace accord, Egypt is allowed to have only lightly armed police in the zone along the border with Israel. Limited numbers of tanks are permitted only in a zone on the far western side of the peninsula, within 30 miles of the Suez Canal.

Israel agreed last year to exceptions to the treaty, allowing Egypt's military to deploy troops with heavier weaponry into the most sensitive zone of eastern Sinai close to the Israeli border. Israel made similar exceptions during its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

In addition to the situation in the Sinai, Clinton also spoke with Amr about Egypt's precarious financial situation and its request to the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion loan to help its faltering economy that has been reeling since the revolution that ousted longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak more than 18 months ago.

An IMF team, including the body's chief, Christine Lagarde, is now in Egypt, which faces a $12 billion financing gap.

"We think it's important for the IMF to work with the Egyptians on how to fill this gap. And we look forward to hearing what they are able to agree to and to supporting that process going forward," Nuland said.

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