Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi met with his American counterpart Barack Obama for the first time on Thursday, discussing a range of issues including ISIS, Libya, and the detention of journalists in Egypt.
The two presidents met late on Thursday for more than an hour on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
During the meeting, Obama raised “our ongoing concerns on Egypt’s political trajectory” said a White House official quoted in international media, adding that the two men had a “frank discussion on those issues.”
Obama also discussed the detention of journalists in Egypt, apparently referring to the jailing of a number of Al Jazeera journalists on terrorism charges. Obama stressed that “those journalists should be released,” according to the White House official.
Washington has also emphasised the importance of Egypt-US ties, according to remarks by the US president released before the meeting.
"The US-Egyptian relationship has been an important cornerstone of our security policy and our policy in the Middle East for a very long time," Obama commented.
Egypt’s foreign ministry released a statement on the meeting on Friday, stating that the two leaders discussed the need for strategic dialogue, the means to strengthen bilateral relations, and issues concerning the Middle East.
The Egyptian-American relationship has been patchy since the ouster of Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi in July of last year, but in recent months there have been signs that relations are growing warmer.
Days before El-Sisi travelled to New York, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Egyptian Minister of Defence Sedki Sobhy to confirm Washington’s plans to deliver 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt to support Cairo's efforts fighting Islamist militants.
The United States had announced in April that it had decided to lift its hold on the delivery of the attack helicopters to Egypt which was imposed last year after Morsi was removed from power.
El-Sisi and Obama on Thursday agreed on the importance of developing bilateral relations by launching a strategic dialogue mechanism between the foreign ministers of both countries, according to the Egyptian statement.
During the meeting, El-Sisi stressed that the Egyptian government has been setting its agenda according to the needs of the Egyptian people and the priority of the nation especially after “two great revolutions [25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013] that had put Egypt on the road to democracy."
Libya in crisis
The two leaders also discussed the deteriorating situation in Libya, where Islamist and pro-government forces are battling for control. Heightened violence in the summer months caused foreign embassies to close and pushed thousands to flee their homes.
According to the Egyptian statement, El-Sisi stressed the importance of supporting the elected government, and also highlighted his rejection of any kind of intervention in internal Libyan affairs.
In August, AP reported that anonymous US officials had claimed that Egypt and the UAE had secretly carried out airstrikes on Islamist targets inside Libya. Egypt and the UAE both denied the claims.
In the meeting with Obama, El-Sisi also called for dialogue on the Libyan crisis, which should include all factions from within the country.
The two presidents also discussed the threat posed by Islamist militant group ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, which has overrun a swathe of Syria and Iraq.
"Concerning terrorism threatening the Middle East, El-Sisi highlighted the importance of international cooperation that aims at cutting off the roots of these terrorist groups," said the Egyptian statement.
Earlier in September, Egypt and nine other Arab states agreed to rally behind Washington in the fight against ISIS, as they seek to build an international coalition.
El-Sisi, who was formerly the head of the armed forces, stressed that Egypt would be part of the coalition, but said in a televised interview with American outlet CBS earlier this week that Egypt would not be involved in the airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria which are currently underway.
“Well, give us the Apaches and F16s that you have been suspending for over a year and a half now,” said a smiling El-Sisi in response to a question about Egypt’s participation in the airstrikes.
El-Sisi’s busy schedule
El-Sisi`s trip to the US – his first since his election as president in June – has also included meetings with US business figures, with whom he discussed tourism and trade projects in an effort to attract investment to Egypt.
Since he arrived on Sunday, the president has also met with several key international figures, most notably Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whose ongoing Grand Renaissance Nile Dam project has been at the heart of a rift between the two countries over concerns over its potential effect on the Nile water supply.
El-Sisi has also met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, several members of Congress, the chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, former US president Bill Clinton, and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.