Tillerson says US backs Egypt on security at start of regional tour

Tillerson says US backs Egypt on security at start of regional tour
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry hold a press conference in Cairo, Feb 12, 2018.
Updated 12 February 2018

Tillerson says US backs Egypt on security at start of regional tour

Tillerson says US backs Egypt on security at start of regional tour

CAIRO: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday Washington stood by Egypt in its fight against Islamist militants as he began a Middle East tour at a time of increasingly complex local and proxy conflicts.
Tillerson also stressed the need for free and fair elections in all countries months ahead of a March presidential vote in Egypt, but he withheld direct comment on an alleged crackdown on opponents of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
The United States has become more embroiled, diplomatically and militarily, in regional conflicts since President Donald Trump took office more than a year ago.
It stepped up support for Kurdish-led forces in Syria before its NATO ally Turkey began a military operation against them last month, and has sided firmly with Israel in recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, angering Palestinians and drawing rebuke from Arab leaders.
The United States has also forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states while taking a tougher line against Iran since Trump took office.
Tillerson and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry delivered a message on Monday that relations remained strong with one of the key US Arab allies.
“We agreed we would continue our close cooperation on counter-terrorism measures,” Tillerson said.
“The Egyptian people should be confident that the US commitment in continuing to support Egypt in its fight against terrorism and bringing security for the Egyptian people is steadfast and will continue.”
Egypt last week launched a large military operation against Islamist militants, focused on defeating Islamic State in the Sinai peninsula.
Tillerson arrived in Egypt, one of the main recipients of Washington’s foreign aid, at the start of a regional tour amid heightened tension between Israel, Syria and Damascus’s ally Iran after an Israeli F-16 aircraft was shot down crashing in northern Israel.
Shoukry said the talks focused on boosting ties between the two countries, and that they had agreed to hold strategic dialogue talks at the level of foreign ministers in the second half of this year.
“This relationship is essential to achieve stability in the region,” he said.
Tillerson also met Sissi before leaving the country.
Sissi is running against a single challenger in the March 26-28 poll after more challenging opponents pulled out, some citing intimidation of supporters and other tactics designed to give the incumbent an easy win.
Sissi, a former military chief, gave the armed forces three months to clear Sinai of militants after more than 300 people were killed by gunmen at a mosque in Sinai in November. The Egyptian army has announced that at least 28 suspected militants have died in clashes since the operation began on Friday.