Pence promises Egypt full US backing in fight against militants

US vice president begins delayed regional tour under cloud of anger over Jerusalem decision

epa06458030 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with US Vice President Mike Pence (L) during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt, 20 January 2018. Pence arrived in Egypt at the start of a regional tour that will also take him to Jordan and Israel.  EPA/KHALED DESOUKI / POOL
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Vice president Mike Pence pledged firm US backing for Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi in his country's fight against militants as he kicked off a trip to the Middle East on Saturday.

Mr Pence said ties between the United States and Egypt had never been stronger after a period of "drifting apart" and that President Donald Trump sent his gratitude to Mr El Sisi for implementing economic reforms.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with you in Egypt in the fight against terrorism," Mr Pence said.

Mr El Sisi said he and Mr Pence had discussed ways to eliminate the "disease and cancer" of terrorism and called Mr Trump a friend.

Egypt has faced security problems, including attacks by ISIL-affiliated militants in the North Sinai region. Mr Trump has made the fight against the extremist group a top priority.

Mr Pence's quick visit comes at the start of a three-country tour that includes stops in Jordan and Israel. This is the highest-level visit by a US official to the region since Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December.

That decision, which reversed decades of US policy and set in motion the process of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, upset the Arab world and prompted Palestinians to reject the United States as a broker for peace.

Mr Pence, a conservative Christian who was one of the driving forces behind the move, and Mr El Sisi did not address the Jerusalem decision during their remarks in front of reporters.

Reporters travelling with the US vice president initially were not allowed to enter the presidential palace in Cairo but were eventually allowed to attend part of his meeting with Mr El Sisi.

Mr Pence will be in Jordan on Sunday, where he will meet King Abdullah, a close US ally. King Abdullah warned against declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying it would have a dangerous impact on regional stability and obstruct US efforts to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Many people in Jordan are descendants of Palestinian refugees whose families left after the creation of Israel in 1948.


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Mr Pence will end his trip in Israel, where he is expected to be warmly welcomed in the aftermath of Mr Trump's decision. He will meet with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, address the Israeli legislature and visit the Western Wall.

Mr Pence is not expected to meet Palestinian leaders, who are incensed by the Jerusalem decision which upended the longstanding US position that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians must determine the city's status.

The vice president was originally scheduled to visit the region in December but postponed the trip amid an outpouring of anger over Mr Trump's decision.

The Trump administration’s recent announcement that it was withholding about half of the aid it was due to give to a United Nations relief agency that serves the Palestinians raised questions about fledgling US efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and further undermined Arabs' faith that the United States can act as an impartial arbitrator.

Pence also plans to visit US troops while he is in the region.