Lieberman: I respect Egypt, "happy" to visit but must be reciprocal

New Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday he has "respect" for Egypt and would be "happy" to visit there, but added he would expect reciprocal visits by his Egyptian counterpart, dpa reported.

In an address at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on his first day in office, Lieberman said Egypt was an "important" factor in preserving regional stability.

Lieberman, who has an awkward history with Cairo owing to past controversial remarks, said that since it became clear he would be Israel's next foreign minister, he had often been asked, "What will be with Egypt?"

"Egypt existed in the time of our Patriarchs, and will apparently be in our time as well," he said.

"I will definitely be happy to visit Egypt and I would be happy for Egyptian leaders to visit us here, and for the Egyptian foreign minister to visit the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

"I certainly respect them and I want them to respect us, on the basis of reciprocity."

The Moldovan-born leader of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu party, the largest coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud, enraged Hosny Mubarak when he told a parliament session in October that since Israel and Egypt had a peace treaty, the Egyptian president should either come and visit, or "go to hell."

Late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat paid an historic visit to Israel in 1977 and signed a peace treaty with it in 1979, the first Arab leader to do so. The 30-year-old peace between the two neighbours however has been a cold one.

Mubarak has not visited Israel, apart from attending the 1995 funeral of assassinated Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem.

Over the past years, Israeli leaders however have often visited Egypt. The outspoken and controversial Lieberman has criticized this, bluntly accusing them of lacking self-respect.

Lieberman also sparked outrage several years ago when he said that if attacked by Arab states, Israel would be justified in bombing Egypt's Aswan Dam.

The past spats have raised concerns that his appointment as foreign minister would damage Israeli-Egyptian relations.

Liebeman spoke during a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry, in which outgoing foreign minister Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party, formally handed over the keys of the office to him.

He also said Israel was not bound by the Annapolis process, but only to the "road map" peace plan.

While the Annapolis process calls for immediate negotiations on all of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the "staged" road map calls for Palestinian action against militants, before negotiations on a final peace deal.

It also calls for a total freeze in Israeli settlement activity and the removal of settlers' outposts set up without formal government approval over the past eight years.

Livni, now leader of the opposition, briefly reacted to Lieberman's statements: "This speech proved that I did the right thing when I did not join the government," she said.

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