U.S. defense chief Jim Mattis has met with Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, ahead of a counter-extremism conference focused on West Africa on Sunday.
Secretary Mattis during the meeting offered condolences for the recent terrorist attack on a mosque in Bir al-Abed, Egypt, and recognized Egypt as a strategic defense partner with the United States.
Mattis noted Egypt’s importance to the stability of the Middle East as well as Egypt’s ongoing fight against terrorism and efforts to protect Egypt’s borders.
A report on the meeting said the two leaders discussed a range of Middle East security issues and talked about a mutual desire to cooperate on terrorism and regional challenges.
Earlier, on the flight to Cairo, Mattis told reporters that counterterrorism cooperation with Egypt is growing. He said the U.S. remains committed to strong ties with Cairo, despite freezing some military aid to Egypt over rights concerns earlier this year.
Cairo was the first stop on a four-nation tour. Mattis is in Jordan and travels later to Kuwait, and Pakistan. The trip comes as the U.S. military shifts its focus in the Middle East, after having driven out the Islamic State militant group from its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
A major focus of the trip will be pressuring Pakistan to end its alleged ties to militant groups that have attacked U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“We have heard from Pakistan leaders that they do not support terrorism, so I expect to see that sort of action reflected in their policies,” Mattis told reporters.
In October, Mattis said the United States would try “one more time” to work with Islamabad before taking “whatever steps are necessary” to address its alleged support for the militants.
Egypt last week suffered what officials called the deadliest terror attack in the country’s modern history, when 25-30 militants carrying Islamic State flags killed over 300 worshippers at a mosque frequented by Sufi Muslim worshippers.
Mattis said he will deliver his condolences for the attack, which occurred in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
“We are working closely with Egypt on how they can best defeat this common threat,” Mattis said, adding that U.S.-Egypt counterterror cooperation has grown during his time as defense chief.