Trump moves to reset US relations with Egypt

Mr Donald Trump and Mr Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Monday. A joint statement said the two leaders agreed Islamist militants could not be defeated solely by military force.
Mr Donald Trump and Mr Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Monday. A joint statement said the two leaders agreed Islamist militants could not be defeated solely by military force.PHOTO: REUTERS

Presidents vow to work together to fight terrorism and agree on importance of Mid-East peace

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump has moved to reset US relations with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after the Obama administration's strained ties, giving him firm backing and vowing to work together to fight Islamist militants.

A joint statement after an Oval Office meeting with the Egyptian leader on Monday said the two leaders agreed on the importance of advancing peace throughout the Middle East - including in Libya, Syria, and Yemen - and expressed interest in supporting Israel and the Palestinians in moving towards peace.

Said Mr Trump: "I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President Sisi.

"He's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt."

The trip was Mr Sisi's first official visit to the US since he was elected president in 2014.

Mr Trump's predecessor Barack Obama never extended an invitation to Mr Sisi. Mr Obama also froze aid to Egypt for two years after Mr Sisi, then a general, overthrew President Mohamed Mursi in mid-2013 after mass protests against Mr Mursi's rule. Mr Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, had been elected the previous year.

The one-on-one meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Sisi, and a separate gathering with top aides, showed how intent the new US President is on rebooting the bilateral relationship and building on the strong connection the two presidents had established when they first met in New York last September.

Said Mr Trump: "I just want to say to you, Mr President, that you have a great friend and ally in the United States, and in me."

Mr Sisi said he appreciated that Mr Trump has been "standing very strong... to counter this evil ideology". The joint statement said Mr Trump and Mr Sisi agreed that Islamist militants could not be defeated solely by military force.

It added that the leaders "agreed on the necessity of recognising the peaceful nature of Islam and Muslims around the world".

While Mr Trump noted that the US and Egypt "have a few things" which they do not agree on, he made no public airing of US concerns about human rights in Egypt.

Rights groups have called for the release of Aya Hijazi, an Egyptian-American who works with street children and was arrested in 2014 on human trafficking charges.

Hijazi has been held in custody for 33 months in violation of Egyptian law, which states that the maximum period for pre-trial detention is 24 months.

A senior US administration official said the subject of Hijazi did not come up in the meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Sisi and their advisers, but said the detention was an issue of concern and a case that was being watched closely by the Trump administration.

At the United Nations in New York, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the administration was not backing away from human rights "because they fully support me speaking about human rights in the Security Council."

Human rights groups have estimated that Mr Sisi's government has detained at least 40,000 political prisoners.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Trump moves to reset US relations with Egypt'. Print Edition | Subscribe