Thursday 19 October 2017

US will forge a 'great bond' with Egypt, Trump vows

Donald Trump, left, greets Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi at the White House (AP)
Donald Trump, left, greets Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi at the White House (AP)

Donald Trump has signalled a new era in US-Egypt relations, pledging years of tepid relations will now give way to a "great bond" between the two nations.

The US president reunited with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for talks ranging from collaboration against the Islamic State terror group to bolstering Egypt's flailing economy.

In Mr Trump, Mr el-Sissi sees new opportunity after years of lukewarm relations with Barack Obama.

"This is my first state visit to the United States since my inauguration and this is the first visit in eight years for an Egyptian president to the United States," Mr el-Sissi said.

Mr Obama never invited the Egyptian leader to the White House and Egypt's government was repeatedly admonished over its human rights record. Mr Obama even briefly suspended some US military aid.

It is the second meeting for Mr Trump and Mr el-Sissi. Reflecting on their first encounter in New York shortly before the general election, Mr Trump said Mr el-Sissi was someone "very close to me".

Mr el-Sissi praised Mr Trump on Monday for his "unique personality" and said that after their first meeting "I bet on you", the latter being comments he made in Arabic that were not translated.

For Egypt, the objective is clear: Help us help you.

In recent months, US and Egyptian officials have sought to stress commonalities.

Like Mr Trump, Mr el-Sissi believes he can eradicate radical Islamic extremism.

"Together, we will fight terrorism and other things and we're going to be friends for a very, very long time," Mr Trump said, citing a "great bond with the people of Egypt".

Mr el-Sissi vowed to work with the US "to counter this evil ideology that is claiming innocent lives, that is bringing devastation to communities and nations and that is terrorizing the innocent people".

Since the military overthrew Egypt's first post-revolution president, the popularly-elected Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, Mr el-Sissi has cracked down on political Islamists.

He has also has taken a heavy hand on Egyptians who deemed his presidency illegitimate, often relegating human rights concerns to national security.

But Mr el-Sissi's government believes its success in fighting radicalism depends critically on US aid.

Egypt is among the top recipients of US military and economic assistance, but the aid is being evaluated as part of the Trump administration's push for dramatic budget cuts to diplomacy and development.

Mr Trump has vowed to work closely with Arab allies in the fight against IS.

As a neighbour to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Libya and Sudan, maintaining stability in Egypt is a high priority, but it has sometimes been a relationship from which the US receives little in return and Mr Trump has said he will not tolerate imbalances in other partnerships, as with China and many European allies.

AP

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