WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump welcomed his Egyptian counterpart, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to the White House Monday, with the Egyptian leader saying he believes Trump could broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
“You, Mr. President, can find a solution,” Sissi told Trump during the meeting, pledging his country’s full support in any effort that will bring about a resolution.
The Egyptian president said peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be “the deal of the century,” echoing language used by Trump.
Greeting Sissi in the Oval Office, Trump heaped praise on the former general’s leadership and embarked on a charm offensive designed to fix ties strained by revolution and security crackdowns.
He assured his Egyptian counterpart that years of tepid relations will now give way to a “great bond” between their two nations.
“You have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me,” Trump told Sissi, sweeping aside his predecessor’s concerns about democratic abuses in Egypt.
“I just want to let everybody know that we are very much behind President Sissi. He has done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” Trump added.
Sissi pointed out at the start of his remarks that “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.”
Hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, Trump said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “I think we’re going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.”
Later this month, the US president is to host Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump noted that the US plans to build its military to “possibly” its highest levels as it looks to fight the Islamic State group and lend support to its allies.
The two leaders were expected to discuss military and economic aid for the country, as well as other issues.
It’s the second meeting for the pair. Reflecting on their first encounter in New York shortly before the general election, Trump said Sissi was someone “very close to me.”
Sissi hailed Trump for his “unique personality” and said that after their first meeting, “I bet on you.”
Like Trump, 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,” Trump said.
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.”
Trump has repeatedly mentioned Egypt as a critical Muslim-majority ally in the fight against extremists like the Islamic State group.
The last time an Egyptian president was at the White House was in 2010, when Hosni Mubarak attended Middle East peace talks alongside Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders.
Within months, Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising, which received tacit support from president Barack Obama.
The Egypt-US relationship was strained further as a broadly Islamist and then a military government — led by Sissi — took charge.
The Obama administration froze military aid to Egypt after then-defense minister Sissi led the 2013 ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi, and a bloody crackdown on his supporters.
Egypt’s key role as the most populous Arab nation meant that the aid was fully reinstated in 2015, but diplomatic relations remained difficult. Sissi was never invited to the Obama White House.
A recent budget proposal left open the possibility of deep cuts in foreign aid, with only Israel’s $3.1 billion annually in military dollars guaranteed, leading some to believe aid to Egypt, promised as part of the 1979 peace deal with Israel, may be slashed.
Egypt is among the top recipients of US military and economic assistance, receiving $1.3 billion annually in aid, plus hundreds of millions in economic assistance from the US Agency for International Development and other programs potentially on the chopping block.
For Trump and Sissi, Monday was also a meeting of kindred spirits.
Both maintain a contentious relationship with the media and believe “bad” or “evil” people are infiltrating their borders. Both whip up supporters with talk of victories and seek to project a sense of inevitable success. They’ve both challenged whether their country’s judges are acting as roadblocks to democracy.
Sissi, like Trump, is widely viewed as a polarizing figure in his country. That view manifested itself on the streets outside the White House Monday, where rival protests for and opposing both Trump and Sissi swelled before the Egyptian’s arrival.
In the sea of American and Egyptian flags, some chanted “We love Sissi, we love Trump!” Others held signs of Sissi and Trump and chanted “Illegitimate,” a cry hearkening back to the Arab Spring.