WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke by phone with his Egyptian counterpart Feb. 5 to hear an update on the tense political situation in Cairo and the “role” of the army amid recent street demonstrations, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Defense Minister and Military Chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who has warned the state could collapse in the face of political upheaval, voiced support for maintaining strong security ties with Washington and reassured Panetta that the armed forces remained committed to his country’s peace treaty with Israel, spokesman George Little said in a statement.
Panetta called Sissi “today to receive updates on the political situation in Egypt, the role of the Egyptian Armed Forces during the recent protests, and express U.S. commitment to the defense relationship,” the statement said. Sissi “reiterated his support for the defense relationship, and thanked Secretary Panetta for his leadership and support,” it said.
The minister “reiterated the Egyptian Armed Forces’ commitment to the Peace Treaty with Israel and underscored that his commitment that the Sinai will not be used as a base to threaten Israel,” it said.
Both men agreed on the importance of continued U.S. military assistance for Egypt, “so that the Egyptian Armed Forces can continue to address shared security objectives while modernizing their equipment and capabilities,” the statement said.
The talks follow a wave of demonstrations and violent clashes in Egypt and a dire warning from Sissi that the country’s stability was in the balance. Egypt’s opposition says the police have failed to reform since the uprising to topple authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. And the U.S. State Department on Feb. 4 called on Egypt to investigate all cases of alleged police abuse after a man was brutally beaten outside the presidential palace in Cairo last week.
The United States has maintained its longstanding relations with Egypt’s armed forces despite the political turmoil and is going ahead with deliveries of F-16 fighter jets to Cairo as part of a massive arms package, despite objections from some U.S. lawmakers.