U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was optimistic about improving military ties with Egypt after talks with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, following a period of tension under the Obama administration.
The Pentagon stated last Friday that US defense secretary would meet with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt during his Middle East visit starting from Tuesday to discuss strengthening security cooperation.
James Mattis’ visit to the Middle East comes within the framework of the Trump Administration pursuit to reset Washington’s relations with traditional US partners in the Middle East.
The Pentagon said that during his tour, Mattis will aim “to re-affirm key US military alliances, to engage with strategic partners in the Middle East and Africa, and to discuss cooperative effort to counter destabilizing activities and defeat extremist terror organizations.”
In this context, earlier this month Donald Trump moved to reset U.S. relations with Egypt, hosting al-Sisi for talks at the White House and giving him firm backing, including in the fight against Islamist militants.
Moreover,Mattis said,”I left Cairo very confident, very confident in the avenues we have to advance our military-to-military relationship, which has been a bedrock and has stood solid all these years.”
A U.S. defense official said Mattis’ meetings with Sisi and Egypt’s defense minister Sedki Sobhy had focused on building trust to allow for stronger military ties.
Mattis also said that he had a good discussion with al-Sisi, and spoke to the defense minister about “efforts to counter terrorism and secure the borders in this very complex security environment,” he said, adding, “You have seen the threats manifested against Egypt,”as reported by U.S Department of Defense.
Mattis also said that the discussions were a continuation of the talks from earlier this month when al-Sisi visited the Pentagon.
U.S. and Egypt relations have soared under the former administration of Barack Obama, which admonished Cairo for its rights abuses following the military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi.
In 2013,U.S. suspended military aid to Egypt before resuming it two years later, but Obama never extended an invitation to the Egypt’s military dictator after he assumed office in 2014 amid continued human rights violations.
Moreover, during Obama administration,”The State Department’s human rights report accuses Sisi’s government of stifling basic freedoms and enforcing its repression through torture, the disappearances of critics, and arbitrary arrests and killings.”
On the contrary, Trump’s flattering words to Egypt’s al-Sisi during his first official visit to the United Sates of America are considered a sharp shift from Obama Administration.
Trump said,”You have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me.”
He also said as he sat beside al-Sisi in the Oval Office,”We agree on so many things.””He added, “I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind al-Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt. The United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing.”
Trump has set aside all of those concerns on human rights violations in Egypt , and it seems that his new administration will give a green light to military sales financing and other economic support cooperation that Cairo was longing for.
The Trump administration has also proposed massive cuts to U.S. foreign aid, but has signaled that Egypt will continue to receive its $1.3 billion worth of annual military aid.
In fact, Mattis is the first cabinet level official to visit Egypt from the Trump administration.
A statement from Sisi’s office said Egypt was keen “on further advancing bilateral relations under the new American administration.”