U.S. President Donald Trump heaped praise on his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, during their meeting on April 3, saying he was doing a "fantastic job" and that the United States was "very much behind" Egypt and its people.
In a joint statement released late on April 3, the two leaders said they agreed on the importance of advancing peace in the Middle East, specifically mentioning Libya, Syria, and Yemen. They also said they wanted to help support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The statement said the two presidents agreed that Islamist militants could not be defeated solely through military means and that they "agreed on the necessity of recognizing the peaceful nature of Islam and Muslims around the world."
Before the meeting, the Trump administration said it wanted to use the meeting to "reboot" relations between the United States and its longtime Middle East ally after a troubled period.
The Egyptian leader had a strained relationship with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Then-President Hosni Mubarak was the last Egyptian leader to visit the White House when he attended Middle East peace talks in 2010. Mubarak was driven from power months later in the Arab Spring uprisings.
U.S.-Egyptian relations became strained when Obama froze aid to Egypt after Sisi overthrew elected President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 following mass protests against Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member.
"I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President Sisi," Trump said. "He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt,"
The U.S. president told Sisi he had a “great friend and ally in the United States, and in me."
Trump did not mention human rights issues in his public comments.
Rights groups have criticized the Sisi government and accuse it of having detained some 40,000 political prisoners.
"Inviting al-Sisi for an official visit to Washington as tens of thousands of Egyptians rot in jail and when torture is again the order of the day is a strange way to build a stable strategic relationship," said Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.
The two presidents likely found common ground on the issue of terrorism by radical Islamist groups.
Sisi described it as "a satanic ideology" during his brief remarks and said he appreciated that Trump has been "standing very strong ... to counter this evil ideology."
Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid, is fighting a violent Islamist insurgency in the Sinai.
A U.S. official said the White House would not publicly criticize Egypt as harshly as previous administrations, but it would not be providing additional financial aid as it looks to reduce foreign aid outlays.
"He’s going to get an end to finger-wagging. We’re not giving him any more money," said the U.S. official.
The official said Sisi would likely be "disappointed" about Washington’s resistance to additional aid.
Trump is scheduled to meet Jordanian King Abdullah on April 5 at the White House, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict likely to be discussed.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP