Pence starts Middle East tour in Egypt
January 20, 2018 | 10:11 PM
by Reuters
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi meets with with US Vice President Mike Pence at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt January 20, 2018. REUTERS/ Khaled Desouki/Pool

Cairo: US Vice President Mike Pence kicked off a trip to the Middle East on Saturday with a visit to Egypt, where he pledged firm US backing to President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in the nation's fight against militants.

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

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

Sisi said the two men discussed ways to eliminate the "disease and cancer" of terrorism and called Trump a friend.

Pence's quick visit comes at the start of a three-country tour that also includes stops in Jordan and Israel.

This is the highest-level visit from a US official to the region since December, when Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

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 leaders in the Arab world and prompted Palestinians to reject the United States as a broker for peace.

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

Egypt has faced security problems, including attacks by IS militants in the North Sinai region.

Trump has made the fight against IS a top priority.

Upon arriving at the palace where Pence and Sisi met, reporters traveling with the vice president initially were not allowed to exit their van and enter the building.

Eventually they were admitted and allowed to attend part of the meeting.

From Cairo, Pence heads to Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah, a close US ally.

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 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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