Former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (L) with Egypt President Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi. (Photo: Ahram)
Egypt’s President Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi met with former US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta in Egypt on Thursday to discuss security in the region, including a project for a joint Arab force in discussion between Arab League members since March.
Panetta also met Egyptian Defence Minister and Army Commander Sedki Sobhi and military officials earlier on Thursday.
According to a statement issued by the Egyptian presidency, Panetta said that the project for a joint Arab force, for which Arab military leaders are still discussing a draft protocol, would have “great effect” in bringing security and stability to the region.
“Deteriorating” security and “instability” in the Arab region are a “threat” to US national security, Panetta reportedly said, and the US supports Egypt’s efforts against “terrorism”.
On his part, El-Sisi called for joint international efforts to stop the spread of “terror” which, he said, is also taking hold in Africa and some parts of Asia.
Relations between US and Egypt have improved over the last months, with several diplomatic visits between the two countries. Relations had suffered after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, with the US suspending its military aid to Egypt and only restoring it last month.
In Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian army is fighting the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis militant group, who last year pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) militant group that has taken control of large swathes of Syria and Iraq.
Egypt is also part of a US-led Arab coalition against the IS, and in February conducted airstrikes against alleged IS sites in Lybia, after a video was released purportedly showing IS executing 20 Egyptian Copts in the country.
As part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Egyptian forces are also focusing on securing the Bab El-Mandab Strait on the Red Sea, a strategic point on the international trade route from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, via Egypt's Suez Canal.
Correction: Ahram Online erroneously referred to Leon Panetta as the current US Secretary of Defence in an earlier version of this article.