US defense chief Mattis arrives in Cairo for Sissi meeting
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US defense chief Mattis arrives in Cairo for Sissi meeting

Trump administration seeking to restore close ties with longtime ally Egypt; Pentagon head to visit Israel later Thursday

Egypt's Minister of Defense Sedki Sobhi (R) greets US Defense Secretary James Mattis (C) upon his arrival at Cairo International Airport in Cairo on April 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JONATHAN ERNST)
Egypt's Minister of Defense Sedki Sobhi (R) greets US Defense Secretary James Mattis (C) upon his arrival at Cairo International Airport in Cairo on April 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JONATHAN ERNST)

CAIRO — US Secretary of Defense James Mattis arrived in Cairo Thursday on the latest leg of a regional tour, as ties with Egypt continue to warm under US President Donald Trump.

After touching down at Cairo airport, Mattis set off to meet President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who was hailed by Trump during a White House visit earlier this month.

Sissi’s visit marked a shift in relations after Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama had given the Egyptian leader the cold shoulder for staging the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Obama temporarily suspended military aid to Egypt following a bloody crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.

Trump, however, has set aside criticism of Sissi’s human rights record while pledging to maintain support for the key US ally which receives an annual $1.3 billion in military aid.

After meeting Sissi, Mattis is scheduled to hold talks with Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi. He leaves Thursday afternoon to Israel.

No announcement is expected during the Egyptian leg of the tour, which started with a visit to Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, talks are likely to touch on the military’s counterinsurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, where an Islamic State group affiliate has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.

The Pentagon is also concerned with preventing jihadists from crossing Libya’s porous border with Egypt and the reported presence of Russian troops in Egypt’s western desert, which Cairo has denied.

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