The United States on Thursday rebuked Russian President Vladimir Putin for throwing his weight behind Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his as-yet undeclared presidential bid, asserting that growing ties between Cairo and Moscow won't impact "historical" relations between Washington and its key Middle East ally.
President Putin on Thursday endorsed a presidential bid by the Egyptian defence minister during talks in Moscow. Field Marshall El-Sisi has yet to officially announce he is running in presidential elections expected this spring, but speculation is rising that he will do so soon.
But Putin’s premature support was criticised by Washington.
"We don’t endorse a candidate and don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr Putin to decide who should govern Egypt,” US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a Thursday press briefing.
"It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide."
Putin made his support for to the military leader's presidential aspirations known in remarks broadcast on Russian television.
"I know you have decided to run for president. This is a very responsible decision, to take upon yourself responsibility for the fate of the Egyptian people," Putin told El-Sisi.
"I wish you luck on my own behalf and that of the Russian people," he said
El-Sisi is on a visit to Moscow along with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy for a second round of "2+2" talks with their Russian counterparts, which started last November.
Russia's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Cairo for two days mid-November to discuss arms sales as well as political and economic cooperation
That visit came amid tensions between United States and its key Middle East's ally, after Washington withdrew some of its military aid to Cairo following the army's ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July and an ensuing crackdown on his supporters.
Egypt had strong ties with Russia in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Soviet Union was the main supplier of arms to Egypt until the early 1970s. Ties between the two sides soured after Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty bringing in some $1.3 billion in annual US military aid to Cairo.
The US State Department denied that improving ties between Moscow and Cairo would impact Washington's "long-standing, strong, historical relationship with Egypt."
"Egypt is free to pursue relationships with other countries; it doesn’t impact our shared interests," Harf said.
"The United States has unique capabilities to bring to bear military and economically in terms of the relationship," she added.