US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, US, April 3, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After years left in the cold by former president Barack Obama, Egyptian President Fattah al-Sisi was welcomed inside the White House for the first time on Monday to the warm embrace of the Trump administration.
The Egyptian leader had found common ground with America’s new president from their very first conversations during the White House transition period. Sisi was the first Arab leader to call Trump with congratulations on his victory, and they together coordinated against an effort at the UN Security Council to condemn Israel for its settlement activity.
But their personal rapport was now on display in the Oval Office for the first time, where Trump offered glowing praise of Sisi for his fight against a growing scourge of terrorism in Sinai.
“We agree on so many things,” Trump said. “I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President al-Sisi.”
According to senior administration officials, two-and-ahalf hours of conversation – in the Oval Office, the cabinet room and over a private lunch – were to focus on the threat of terrorism, but Trump also had plans to address the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“You will find me supporting you very strongly and very earnestly in finding a solution to the problem of the century,” Trump said.
Sisi came to Washington with several specific requests.
Trump, Egypt's Sisi discuss fighting terrorism
He wants the Trump administration to support continued foreign military financing to Egypt, despite its general predisposition to cut foreign aid; financing for its military acquisitions; and an official American designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
Egyptians democratically elected the Muslim Brotherhood following a revolution against longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011. A military overthrow of the Brotherhood , which installed Sisi in power, left a schism between the former Obama administration and the current leadership.
“ He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” Trump said. “ We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt. The United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing. ” Trump made no mention of human rights in his appearances with Sisi, who has been accused of imprisoning thousands of political prisoners from humanitarian organizations.
The two leaders chose not to hold a press conference.
Sisi said he appreciates that Trump has been “standing very strong... to counter this evil ideology.” He also noted this was his first visit to Washington since his own inauguration as president.
Egypt has long been one of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East, receiving $1.3 billion in US military aid annually. It is fighting an Islamist insurgency in Sinai in which hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police have been killed.
The Persian Gulf-based Al Khaleej Online reported that Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah are planning during their meetings with Trump this week to present the principles of a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
According to the report, quoted on Israel Radio, Trump will then be expected to deliver his response to the proposals when he meets with Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas later in the month in Washington.
The report said the Americans hope to hold an international summit in September that would then launch renewed negotiations between Israel and the PA. The last round ended in failure in 2014.
The report said that in order to bring the Palestinians to the table, Israel will have to declare a settlement freeze and release the last batch of convicted terrorists not released during the failed 2015 talks brokered by then- US secretary of state John Kerry.
Al Khaleej Online ‘s piece mirrors a similar report from The Jerusalem Post
published last week, in which Israeli sources previewed Trump’s plans for a summit of Arab and Israeli leaders
in Washington geared toward jump-starting the peace process. Sources said Israel would have to freeze settlement activity outside of existing settlement blocs, and that the Trump administration hopes the summit would take place some time this summer.