US reaffirms military ties with Egypt
25 April 2013, 19:03
Cairo - US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel underscored
Washington's military commitment to Egypt on Wednesday and pledged American
support as Egyptian forces evolve to address new and shifting security threats,
US defence officials said.
"I wanted to stop in Egypt to ... reaffirm American
commitment to Egypt's emerging democracy, encourage the democratic and economic
reforms that are underway here," Hagel told reporters after a day of
meetings with Egyptian officials.
"This is a large country, an important country. They
are undertaking the right course of action - human dignity and freedom and
democratic norms and governance. We are committed to helping any nation that
does that," he said.
After stops in Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Hagel
discussed military co-operation and the civil war in Syria with President Mohammed
Morsi and Defence Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
But the US Congress is divided over continued aid to Cairo
as the Muslim Brotherhood consolidates its grip on power.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew did however express support on
Wednesday for granting an International Monetary Fund loan to Egypt, saying it
was in US interests for Egypt to be on a more sustainable course.
US defence officials said Hagel discussed a full range of
issues with Sisi and Morsi, including the Camp David peace treaty with Israel,
the security situation in the Sinai and the war in Syria. Hagel pledged U.S.
support as Egypt's military grows and changes to meet new security threats.
"All militaries evolve as the threat picture changes
and as they try to adapt to those threats, they are ... assessing border
security, counter-terrorism, non-state actors that are a threat to the
state," a US defence official said later.
He said the two sides did not talk about specific types of
aid but agreed to continue their discussions as the Egyptian military
reassesses the threats the country faces.
Egypt has received $1.5bn a year in mostly military
assistance ever since it signed the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, the first
between the Jewish state and an Arab state.
Cairo has maintained a "cold peace" with Israel
under the Islamist president and US officials say practical security co-operation
with both Washington and the Israelis is working smoothly, though political
ties are frozen.
Secretary of State John Kerry said this month that the
United States was increasingly worried about internal developments in Egypt,
which he said was at a "tipping point".
"We share a very real concern in the Obama administration
about the direction that Egypt is apparently moving in," Kerry said,
citing economic problems, stalled talks on the IMF loan and the absence of
dialogue with the liberal opposition.
Hagel's visit was an opportunity for Washington to maintain a
dialogue with the Egyptian military, seen as a pro-American guarantor of
regional stability during two years of turmoil since the overthrow of veteran US
ally Hosni Mubarak.
The United States is due to deliver a new batch of F-16
fighter jets to Egypt soon, diplomats said, but some Republican senators oppose
the delivery. Cairo received four of a group of 20 F-16s in January and the
rest are due later this year.
General James Mattis, then head of US Central Command which
covers the Middle East, told a Senate hearing last month: "The bottom line
is ... that the Egyptian military, through a very difficult period, has
maintained and even built trust with the Egyptian people."
He said the armed forces had upheld Egypt's international
treaties, including with Israel, provided extra security for US ships going
through the Suez Canal, and helped keep the Gaza area as quiet as at any time
in 10 years through quiet security operations in the Sinai Peninsula.
"I think anything right now that we do that would
undercut the trust between the United States, the US military and the Egyptian
military would be extremely unhelpful," Mattis said.