Hagel Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Egypt’s Emerging Democracy
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
CAIRO, April 24, 2013 On the fourth day of his inaugural trip to the Middle East, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spent time here today with Egypt’s top government and defense officials, reaffirming U.S. support for that country’s fledgling democracy.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, shakes hands with Egyptian Maj. Gen. Abd Al Halim Fouad as Maj. Gen. Mohamed Said al-Assar looks on in Cairo, April 24, 2013. Egypt is Hagel's fourth stop on a six-day trip to the Middle East to meet with defense counterparts. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The trip, which began April 20 and will end April 26, so far has taken the secretary to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On his final full day in the region, Hagel will visit his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates to discuss common interests.
This morning aboard his military aircraft as it approached Cairo, Hagel told his staff that he had wanted to visit Egypt as soon as possible into his tenure as secretary of defense, a senior defense official said.
“I wanted to stop in Egypt to reaffirm American commitment to Egypt’s emerging democracy [and] encourage the democratic and economic reforms that are under way,” the secretary told reporters during a briefing here today.
“Egypt’s been an important partner to the United States for many years and I wanted to get acquainted with the new president,” he added. “I did not know him [but] I knew many of the military leaders, so today was the day to get acquainted and get reacquainted and reaffirm America’s commitment to this emerging democracy.”
Hagel’s visit here began with a tea ceremony during which he was welcomed by Maj. Gen. Mohammed Zamaloo, the Egyptian Central Military Zone chief of staff. Afterward, at the Ministry of Defense, Hagel met with Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who hosted an official lunch.
According to a senior defense official, al-Sisi gave Hagel a warm reception and expressed condolences for the Boston bomb attacks and a deadly Texas fertilizer plant accident that occurred during the same week.
During their meeting, Hagel reaffirmed the importance of strong U.S.-Egyptian military ties. He also expressed U.S. support for political and democratic reforms in Egypt and encouraged them to continue for several reasons, including stability in Egypt and the region. The secretary commended the Egyptian military for the responsible role it has played during a difficult transition period in the country.
Al-Sisi said that Egypt understands and takes responsibility for security throughout the country, including Egypt's borders, and the two men exchanged views on Syria, Iran and other regional security matters, the defense official said.
“It is not easy. This is a difficult part of the world,” Hagel said of Egypt and the region. “This is a large country, an important country. They are undertaking the right course of action -- human dignity and freedom, democratic norms and governance. We are committed to helping any nation that does that.”
Before visiting the presidential palace to meet Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Hagel took the time to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The memorial is sited along a major thoroughfare, according to a pool report, and has a 73-meter-tall pyramid sculpture-monument. Beneath are two tombs.
Then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat ordered the memorial’s in 1974 to honor Egyptians who died in the 1973 October War. The memorial was inaugurated in October 1975, then later chosen as the place for Sadat’s tomb after his assassination in October 1981.
Today, at the somber ceremony a large honor guard and a military band were present. A black marble square is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and, a few steps away, a white marble square is Sadat's tomb. Hagel laid a wreath at each tomb.
Later, during the cordial meeting with Morsi, the secretary reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Egypt military relationship, a senior defense official said, adding that Morsi “very much appreciated that affirmation and himself reaffirmed the importance.”
Discussions included the Egyptian domestic situation, he added, and Morsi offered his thoughts to the secretary about the situation there.
“We talked about Syria at some length in terms of the president offering his views on the situation in Syria and again in terms of the perception of the threat and what Syria’s future may mean for all of us, whether in the region or for the international community more broadly,” the defense official said.
The two leaders also discussed the importance of a close relationship with Israel, he added, and both reaffirmed the tenets of the Camp David Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Later, Hagel said he’d had a good meeting with Morsi.
“We discussed, the president and I, many issues this afternoon …,” the secretary said. “I spent a lot of time with the defense minister and a number of his representatives, some I’ve known over the years. So I was very happy that I stopped here and pleased that we spent the day, to really take my own assessment of the situation here.”