US defence secretary arrives in Cairo for Sisi meeting

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis takes questions during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington DC

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis takes questions during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington DC

Mattis is expected to meet with Egypt's Defense Minister Sedki Sobhy and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who visited the White House earlier this month as the first Egyptian leader to do so since former U.S. President Barack Obama hosted Hosni Mubarak in 2009.

The meeting was also attended by Egyptian Minister of Defense and Military Production Sedqi Sobhi, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Affairs Dina Powell and the U.S. Ambassador to Cairo Stephen Beecroft.

Sisi hosted Mattis at the presidential palace near Cairo as the USA official begins a Middle East tour and said he hoped Egypt could have strong relations with the new US administration.

The Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to US foreign aid, but has signalled that Egypt will continue to receive its $1.3 billion worth of annual military aid.

Sissi tells Mattis he wants to "strengthen the ongoing military cooperation between the two countries", it says.

Mattis in turn "reiterated the US's commitment to reinvigorating these relations and broadening prospects for cooperation", it added. He is also scheduled to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

In Egypt, talks are likely to touch on the military's counterinsurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, where an Islamic State group affiliate has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.

He also praised Egypt's pivotal role in fighting terrorism and backing regional stability, saying the United States fully supports Egyptian efforts in this field.

It claimed two church bombings in the cities of Alexandria and Tanta on April 9 that killed 45 people, months after a deadly Cairo church bombing.

On Thursday, the military announced it had killed a top IS cleric in Sinai air strikes, along with 18 other jihadists.

On Tuesday, Mattis began a tour of the Middle East and Africa, starting with Saudi Arabia before he arrived in Egypt.

Subsequently, on April 22, Mattis will travel to Qatar to meet with "international (regional) leadership and continue efforts to strengthen security architectures" in the area, according to U.S. official sources.

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