October 3, 2011
CAPITOL HILL NEWS SPECIAL REPORT
TEL AVIV - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Monday that U.S. officials have been trying to broker the release of an accused Israeli spy held by Egypt, and he raised hopes that he could win the prisoner's release during a visit to Cairo this week.
Ilan Grapel, 27, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen and a law student at Emory University in Atlanta, was arrested in June in Cairo on suspicion of espionage. Egyptian authorities accused him of gathering intelligence for Israel and trying to sabotage the popular revolution that toppled Egypt's longtime president, Hosni Mubarak.
Grapel and his family have said he was working as a legal aid volunteer for a refugee organization in Cairo and is innocent.
On Sunday, a day after he was visited in prison by a U.S. diplomat, the Egyptian state-run news agency MENA said the government in Cairo was considering Grapel's release. The news agency said U.S. officials had offered "more political and economic support in return," it but did not provide details.
In a news conference Monday in Tel Aviv with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta declined to comment on the status of the negotiations, saying, "I'll wait until I get to Egypt."
Panetta did not answer directly when asked to comment about a report in Dar al-Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper, that he would personally seek to free Grapel from custody and fly him back to the United States on his military aircraft. Panetta is scheduled to meet this week in Cairo with Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the chief of Egypt's ruling military council, and other officials.
"We have made our concerns known to the Egyptians about holding that individual," Panetta said. "We would hope that whether it happens with me or whether it happens at some point in the future that they do take steps to release that individual."
Panetta's aides sought to play down expectations that Grapel's release was imminent. "The secretary, like other senior American officials, seeks resolution of the issue," said George Little, Panetta's spokesman. "He's not affixing any particular timetable to that process but hopes that it draws to an end soon."