Gates Meets with Egyptian Counterpart in Cairo

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 24, 2011 — In a meet­ing in Cairo this morn­ing, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates com­mend­ed his counterpart’s lead­er­ship and the Egypt­ian military’s pro­fes­sion­al­ism dur­ing the recent tumul­tuous events in that coun­try, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell said.
Gates met with Field Mar­shal Mohamed Hus­sein Tanta­wi to dis­cuss issues that includ­ed the evolv­ing gov­ern­ment of Egypt, secu­ri­ty in the Sinai and fight­ing in Libya, Mor­rell said.

In their meet­ing, Gates told Tanta­wi — com­man­der in chief and chair­man of the Supreme Coun­cil of the Armed Forces in Egypt — that on the trip from the air­port he noticed more Egypt­ian flags fly­ing around the city than he’d ever seen since he first vis­it­ed Egypt in 1978, the press sec­re­tary added.

“The sec­re­tary sug­gest­ed that there is a new spir­it of patri­o­tism or nation­al­ism on dis­play,” he said, “and the field mar­shal agreed that was the case.”

Gates con­grat­u­lat­ed Tanta­wi on a suc­cess­ful March 19 ref­er­en­dum that marked the first in a series of con­sti­tu­tion­al reforms being imple­ment­ed in the coun­try, as well as on the impres­sive turnout of vot­ers who weighed in on the mea­sure.

“The Supreme Coun­cil of the Armed Forces, the mil­i­tary group that is run­ning the coun­try dur­ing this peri­od of tran­si­tion, con­vened a set of con­sti­tu­tion­al schol­ars and then devel­oped a series of reforms that were put up to a pop­u­lar vote,” a senior mil­i­tary offi­cial said. More than 40 per­cent of eli­gi­ble vot­ers turned out, and 77 per­cent vot­ed in favor of the con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments, the offi­cial added.

Mor­rell said the sec­re­tary and field mar­shal also dis­cussed Egypt’s upcom­ing par­lia­men­tary and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

“New ele­ments of civ­il soci­ety in Egypt came to the fore dur­ing the past two months,” Gates told reporters at a brief­ing in Cairo yes­ter­day, “and there is a new polit­i­cal space in Egypt.”

It is impor­tant to allow enough time to devel­op polit­i­cal par­ties and orga­ni­za­tions, he added, so those who have become new­ly active in Egypt­ian pol­i­tics “can play the same kind of lead­ing role in Egypt in the future that they played in bring­ing about this change in the first place.”

Tanta­wi and Gates dis­cussed secu­ri­ty in the Sinai, Mor­rell said, and Tanta­wi updat­ed the sec­re­tary on mil­i­tary efforts that include coun­ter­smug­gling, an effort for which the U.S. mil­i­tary has offered tech­ni­cal assis­tance to the Egyp­tians.

“They dis­cussed rela­tions with Israel,” Mor­rell said, “and the field mar­shal in this con­ver­sa­tion, as the Egypt­ian prime min­is­ter did yes­ter­day, took it upon him­self to reaf­firm Egypt’s com­mit­ment to their peace treaty with Israel.”

The sec­re­tary not­ed Tantawi’s new respon­si­bil­i­ties as inter­im leader of the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment, in addi­tion to his “very large day job, which is run­ning the Egypt­ian mil­i­tary,” Mor­rell said.

Gates said the U.S. mil­i­tary wish­es to resume a more reg­u­lar mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship with the Egyp­tians. The U.S. mil­i­tary per­forms about sev­en major joint exer­cis­es a year with the Egyp­tians, Mor­rell said, includ­ing Bright Star, a series of com­bined and joint train­ing exer­cis­es led by U.S. and Egypt­ian forces in Egypt that began in 1981.

The sec­re­tary and the field mar­shal also talked about U.S. mil­i­tary and eco­nom­ic aid to Egypt, the press sec­re­tary said.

Despite “seri­ous eco­nom­ic pres­sures in our own coun­try,” Gates said, the man­ner in which Tanta­wi and his mil­i­tary han­dled this peri­od in Egypt­ian his­to­ry “has put them in good stead back at home in Amer­i­ca, par­tic­u­lar­ly with the U.S. Con­gress.” Gates said he is com­mit­ted to work­ing to ensure mil­i­tary and eco­nom­ic sup­port con­tin­ues for the strug­gling nation, where tourism is down by more than 75 per­cent, Mor­rell said.

“They need us and oth­ers to con­tin­ue to do what we can to assist them,” Mor­rell added.

The mil­i­tary lead­ers also dis­cussed vio­lence in Libya between the gov­ern­ment and coali­tion forces in Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn, Mor­rell said. Tanta­wi told Gates that Egypt is con­cerned about the large num­bers of its cit­i­zens liv­ing in Libya, the press sec­re­tary said, and about poten­tial reprisals from Moam­mar Gad­hafi.

Between March 5 and March 17, the U.S. mil­i­tary air­lift­ed 1,100 Egyp­tians from Djer­ba off the coast of Tunisia to Cairo, Defense Depart­ment spokes­woman Navy Cmdr. Wendy Sny­der said.

“[If there is] any­thing we can do,” Gates told Tanta­wi as they shook hands after the meet­ing, “don’t hes­i­tate to call me.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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