Egypt Assures Hagel: We're Committed to Peace with Israel
Egypt’s leaders have assured visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that they are committed to their country’s peace treaty with Israel.
A statement on Wednesday by the U.S. embassy in Cairo said that during Hagel’s visit, “Egyptian leaders reiterated their commitment to Egypt's international obligations, including the Peace Treaty with Israel.”
Hagel urged Egypt's Islamist-led government to press ahead with reforms in a trip designed to bolster America's alliances in a region swept by upheaval, AFP reported.
According to the report, after meeting his Egyptian counterpart, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, and President Mohammed Morsi, Hagel said he came to express America's "commitment to Egypt's emerging democracy" and "encourage the democratic and economic reforms that are underway here".
Egypt has been a cornerstone of regional U.S. influence since its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, but Washington has faced a more strained relationship with Cairo after the 2011 overthrow of veteran president Hosni Mubarak.
In his talks with Sissi, Hagel said the government should stick with democratic reforms to ensure "stability in Egypt and the region," according to AFP.
He praised the Egyptian military "for the responsible role it has played during a difficult period in the country," a senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the news agency.
Hagel later met Morsi, elected in June as the country's first Islamist and civilian president, before flying to the United Arab Emirates on the last leg of his six-day tour of the Middle East.
Washington has increasingly adopted a critical tone towards Morsi's government over allegations the Islamists have stifled opposition figures and media.
In the post-Mubarak era, the United States still provides more than a billion dollars in annual military aid to Egypt.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released $250 million in financial aid to Egypt, with a pledge of more if Morsi implements economic and political reforms.
The U.S. has also signed a deal with Egypt to provide the country with a group of 20 F-16s, part of the US$1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. Four of those aircraft have already been delivered.
The huge funding package has always been seen as a way of ensuring Cairo abide by the 1979 peace accords with Israel.
In Wednesday's talks, Morsi reaffirmed Cairo's commitment to the peace treaty and voiced appreciation for continued U.S. military aid, U.S. officials said, according to AFP.
Hagel and his counterparts also discussed deteriorating security in the Sinai Peninsula, with the Egyptians pledging to deter militant elements and the Americans offering possible military hardware or advice, officials said.
Security in the Sinai collapsed and lawlessness took over after the uprising which ousted Mubarak in February 2011. Egyptian security forces launched a campaign to crush terrorists in the restive region after a terror attack claimed the lives of 16 Egyptian soldiers.