Arriving in Cairo, Pentagon chief hails US-Egypt defense ties as ‘essential pillar’

FILE - Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Nov. 16, 2022. The U.S. is at a pivotal point with China and will need military strength to ensure that American values, not Beijing's, set global norms in the 21st century, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. Austin’s speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum capped a week where the Pentagon was squarely focused on China’s rise and what that might mean for America’s position in the world. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, November 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

CAIRO — US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says that America’s defense partnership with Egypt is an “essential pillar” of Washington’s commitment to the Middle East.

Austin makes the remark on Twitter after touching down in Cairo on the latest leg of his Middle East tour. He is greeted by senior Egyptian military officials at the Cairo airport.

Austin is expected to hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and other high-ranking officials before departing later today for Israel. His previous stops on the tour included Jordan and Iraq. He was in Baghdad yesterday on an unannounced visit, days before the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Egypt is one of the largest recipients in the Middle East of American economic and military aid and an abiding US ally in the region. But in recent years, US lawmakers have sought to condition that aid on human rights improvements and reforms.

Since coming to power in 2013, el-Sissi’s government has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands. Officials have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics.

”The U.S.-Egypt defense partnership is an essential pillar of our commitment to this region,” Austin posts on Twitter. ‘’I’m here to strengthen our coordination on key issues and to pursue opportunities to deepen our long-standing bilateral partnership with Egypt.”

Egypt has also played a key role in brokering numerous cease-fire agreements between Israeli and Palestinian leaders over recent years. Austin’s trip comes as violence has surged across the West Bank to its highest levels in years.

Both the United States and Egypt are also currently engaged in cross-party talks seeking to end enduring political crises in neighboring Libya and Sudan.

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