'No gap' between Cairo, Washington on counter-terrorism: US Secretary of State Tillerson

Ahram Online , Monday 12 Feb 2018

Tillerson is in Cairo at the start of a five-nation tour of the region, and is due to meet with President El-Sisi later on Monday

Tillerson and Shoukry
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry are seen during their news conference in Cairo, Egypt February 12, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

There is "no gap" in the relationship between Egypt and the United States in terms of fighting terrorism in the region, US Secetrary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday.

Tillerson made the comments at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, following talks between the two as part of the US official's five-nation regional tour.

"The Egyptian people should be trustful that the US will continue to support Egypt in its war to eliminate terrorism," he said, pointing to the $1 billion in funding the US provides annually to enhance Egypt's military capabilities.

"Some of it we can talk about, some we can't," Tillerson said, referring to the military funding programme.

He stressed that the US stands "arm in arm" with Egypt in fighting terrorism, accentuating his commitment to boosting security and peace in the region.

The US official's visit comes days after Egypt's military launched Operation Sinai 2018, a large-scale effort to purge terrorists from North and Central Sinai, parts of the Nile Delta and desert areas west of the Nile Valley.

According to Shoukry, his talks with Tillerson on Monday morning were focused on Egypt's fight against terrorism.

"We appreciate the support from the US in this war," Shoukry said at the press conference, hailing the "strategic relationship" between the two countries which have remained consistent for the past four decades.

Shoukry added that the two men discussed the suggestion of a new two-plus-two mechanism, including the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries, saying that it would help to boost relations.

Shoukry and Tillerson also said that a "strategic discussion" would take place before the end of the year.

Monday's talks involved discussion of regional crises, including the situations in Syria and Libya, and the shaky peace-process negotiations between Palestine and Israel.

On Palestine, Tillerson said the US was still committed to a two-state solution, adding that Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December has not changed the overall situation with regard to reaching a solution.

"The final boundaries of Jerusalem are yet to be set between the involved parties," he said.

Shoukry, meanwhile, said that during his meeting with Tillerson he affirmed the importance of reaching a two-state solution of the Palestinian issue, pointing to Egypt's preparedness to support efforts to achieve peace and stability in the region.

"We will continue to work on this with the US and our partners to achieve the goal of establishing a Palestinian state," he said.

The two men also agreed on the importance of a political solution as a mean of establishing stability in Libya and Syria, supporting the upcoming Libyan presidential elections.

Tillerson also spoke about North Korea at the press conference, saying it was up to North Korea to decide when it is ready to engage in sincere talks with the United States.

Shoukry said he discussed Egypt's relationship with North Korea, clarifying that it was limited to diplomatic representation, and that Egypt is critical of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme and ballistic missile launches.

The Egyptian foreign minister responded to a question from an American journalist about the human rights situation in Egypt, stressing that groups that promote such news either do not have enough information or have lost contact with society.

"You can check by yourself how the Egyptian people view our efforts in boosting human rights," he said, pointing to journalistic freedoms and the variety of satellite TV channels.

In the past few months, Egypt has repeatedly slammed reports on human rights concerns in the country, stressing that such reports were often "politicized" and "irrational".

Tillerson said the issue of human rights was discussed in the Monday-morning meeting, adding that the US supports "fair and transparent elections, which will respect the right of citizens" not only in Egypt, but worldwide.

The US secretary of state is set to meet Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi later on Monday, as part of the first leg of his visit to the region. The tour, from 11 to 16 February, also takes in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Kuwait.

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