WASHINGTON — President Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hit it off in their first Oval Office meeting today, with Trump lauding the Egyptian ruler as “somebody that’s been very close to me from the first time I met him.”
The two met in September at Trump’s offices in New York. Today, Trump praised el-Sisi as someone who’s “done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.”
“We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt, and the United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing. We are very much — and as you and I will be soon talking — we’re building up our military to a level that will be the highest — probably the highest that we’ve ever had — plane orders, ship orders, aircraft carrier orders. We are rejuvenating our military to the highest level,” Trump continued.
“I think in these times, probably more than ever before, or certainly almost more than ever before, that’s what we need,” he added. “And I just want to say to you, Mr. President, that you have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me.”
El-Sisi said he has “a deep appreciation and admiration of your unique personality, especially as you are standing very strong in the counterterrorism field.”
“To counter this evil ideology that is claiming innocent lives, that is bringing devastation to communities and nations, and that is terrorizing the innocent people — your excellency, very strongly and very openly you will find Egypt and myself always behind you in this, in bringing about an effective strategy in the counterterrorism,” El-Sisi said.
“We will fight terrorism and other things,” Trump agreed. “And we’re going to be friends for a long, long period of time.”
Human rights groups, which have estimated el-Sisi holds up to 40,000 political prisoners, had called on Trump to demand the release of Aya Hijazi, an American who ran a charity for street children who has been detained along with her Egyptian husband since March 2014.
A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters that el-Sisi was “going to get an end to finger-wagging” on human rights from Trump, but “we’re not giving him any more money.”
El-Sisi then joined Trump for a lunch with the president’s cabinet, where the White House press pool was allowed in for about two minutes.
“We have many things in common,” Trump declared. “We have a few things that we don’t agree on.”
Asked about the subway bombing in St. Petersburg, Russia, today, Trump replied, “Terrible. Terrible thing. Happening all over the world. Absolutely a terrible thing.”
Asked by AFP’s Andrew Beatty whether human rights were discussed with el-Sisi, Trump remained quiet. The press pool was ushered out.