Press Availability With Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via translation) Ladies and Gentlemen, I am happy to welcome Secretary Pompeo.
I had the honor of meeting him this morning after his meeting with President Sisi. During the meeting, the deep-rooted strategic bilateral relations between Egypt and the United States were stressed. These relations contributed, for more than four decades, to promote stability and peace in the region. I stressed during the talks that we should consider Egypt’s relation with the United States as a strategic one between two partners, a matter that will contribute to the stability in Egypt and the whole region. Egypt is looking forward to the United States’ support to Egyptian efforts on all aspects including the political, the social, and the economic levels.
And I also stressed our appreciation of the U.S. aid to Egypt that serve both countries’ interests and the importance of keeping this aid and increasing it, in light of the challenges we both face, especially concerning Egypt’s war on terrorism, which benefits both sides and secures Egyptian-American national interests and helps ensure international stability as well.
The talks also tackled enhancing bilateral relations through increasing the visits on the political and technical levels and boosting the mutual dialogue and cooperation, including preparing to hold the 2+2 strategic dialogue between defense and foreign ministers of the two countries. We also talked about boosting investments and trade relations between the two countries and about the U.S. support to Egypt’s steps toward achieving economic reform; in addition to exploring opportunities for U.S. companies to invest in Egypt according to the view of presidents Sisi and Trump. The view that endorses opening new horizons to better relations between the two countries.
The talks also tackled regional issues of mutual interests and the dangers threatening the region in Libya, Syria, and Yemen and preventing some regional countries from interfering in the Arab affairs or violating the sovereignty of Arab countries or committing acts of military aggression on their lands. We also discussed the issue of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and Egypt’s effort to guarantee the interests of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan by providing development opportunities to Ethiopia without harming Egypt water interests and by overcoming the current stalemate in the negotiations. The efforts to revive peace between Palestinians and Israelis were also discussed based on Egypt's firm role in achieving peace in the region in the light of our strategic partnership with the United States and considering the United States an important partner in finding a settlement to the conflict.
I welcome Secretary Pompeo again and giving him the floor.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s wonderful to be here in Cairo. It’s my first trip here as Secretary of State. President Trump sends his best wishes to the people of Egypt and to its leaders.
I’d like to thank President al-Sisi and you, Foreign Minister Shoukry, for hosting me and our team. As you just said, today our meetings reaffirm the longstanding important strategic partnership between our two nations. It’s always necessary but even more now. Just a few weeks ago terrorists struck Egypt in Giza just as they have done in Sinai, Minya, and elsewhere. Last Saturday a police officer died and two more were wounded as they bravely diffused the bomb planted near a Coptic church. I wanted to let you know that the American people join the Egyptian people in mourning each of those.
This morning I had a chance to thank President al-Sisi for his vigorous efforts to combat the ongoing threat of terrorism as well as the radical Islamism that fuels it. His leadership, his assertion of leadership, is consistent with Egypt’s historical role as a true leader throughout the Middle East. It’s the kind of initiative President Trump asks all nations to take on for the protection of their people, and I had the chance to thank President al-Sisi for that this morning.
As I’ll talk a little bit more about in my remarks at the American University in Cairo, the United States under President Trump will remain a steadfast partner in the region for Egypt and others. We urge every country to take meaningful action to crush terrorism and denounce its ideological roots. You’ll not fight these battles alone. Our robust battle against ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups will continue.
Egypt and the United States are also working together to solidify the Middle East Strategic Alliance as a means for advancing regional peace, security, and prosperity. We hope all nations involved will take the next step forward on that important initiative.
We have the chance, too, today to discuss Egypt’s continued support for the UN facilitated political process in Libya, and we discussed the need to counter the greatest threat of all in the Middle East, the Iranian regime and its campaigns of terrorism and destruction.
On the economic front, Egypt has made very good progress. You should all be very proud of that. We encourage the continued opening of the economy to create greater opportunities for the private sector, certainly American companies, but companies from all around the world. Under President al-Sisi’s leadership, Egypt is undertaking the reforms necessary to achieve that in the economic and energy sectors in particular. These are important steps that President al-Sisi has taken along the road to greater economic prosperity for the Egyptian people, and America stands ready to support that.
We also appreciate President al-Sisi’s support for religious freedom. The United States is very, very welcoming of that action. All people should have the freedom to believe what they want, to believe and worship however they choose.
In my meetings, we also discussed the need for Egypt to enact basic freedoms. We appreciate what they’ve done with their NGO law. Open and honest public debates are the hallmark of a thriving society and stand to benefit the Egyptian people greatly.
We both – I know Foreign Minister Shoukry and I both look forward to seeing the fruits of our bilateral cooperation on these many issues. Egypt will continue to have a great and strong friend in the United States. Thank you, Foreign Minister.
MODERATOR: We’ll be taking two questions.
QUESTION: (Via translation) What are the most important topics expected to be raised during the 2 + 2 strategic dialogue and what will be the impact of this on relations between the two countries and did you agree on a specific date for this dialogue?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via translation) Certainly, the relations, their strategic implications, and the various mechanisms through which this relationship is addressed, whether in the framework of summit meetings, ministerial meetings, or the activation of the mechanism of the strategic dialogue or the new mechanism 2 + 2, all contribute to strengthening relations and exploring new areas of cooperation.
The strategic dialogue is a broad one that includes political, economic, military, and also the technical aspect whether in education, health, or other areas related to development in Egypt. So it is necessary to prepare well for this round (dialogue) and therefore our intention to start internal consultations to prepare for that meeting in order to have specific results that leads to strengthening the relationship (between the two countries).
It also provides an opportunity for continued consultation and coordination to address strategic issues of interest to both countries. Both countries are working through cooperation to address many of the challenges associated with the regional situation, and to address issues of common interest in the international arena. Egyptian-American relations are deep and diverse, and these mechanisms serve the continued quest to deepen this relationship and build on the achievements.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s a pretty complete answer. I’d only add this. The work that gets done in preparation for these is important. It’s detailed. It’s granular. It will cover lots of things. You mentioned many of them, but I think, too, about energy, transportation, aviation issues, where our two countries can work together on our bilateral relationships there but also in the region. But the second thing, the United States engages in only a handful of these level of discussions, and us doing that with Egypt I think is a profound demonstration of the commitment between our two countries.
MR PALLADINO: Next question, BBC, Barbara Plett Usher.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Pompeo, the fact sheet says that cooperation with Egypt has improved on human rights. So did you raise the issue of Americans detained in Egypt and also the thousands of political prisoners here? And just on Syria. Turkey and the United States have been talking past each other in the past couple of days. How are you going to organize a swift and secure withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria if the U.S. doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the country it depends on to make it a success?
And just finally, if I may, I want to return very quickly to this issue of contradiction. Last month President Trump said the fight against Islamic State was over, it was defeated, and he was going to bring U.S. troops back from Syria now. Since then his national security officials have said Islamic State is not completely defeated and the withdrawal will happen slowly, gradually, and based on conditions. How is this not a contradiction, or has the President changed his mind?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you for your one question. (Laughter.) Let me take the third of your single question first. There’s no contradiction whatsoever. This is a story made up by the media. That’s fine. You all write what you’d like. The President’s been very clear, and Ambassador Bolton and I have been very clear about this too. The threat from radical Islamic terrorism is real. ISIS continues. We fight them in many regions around the country.
Our commitment to continuing to prevent Daesh’s growth, ISIS’ growth is real. It’s important. We will continue at that. We’re going to do it in a way, in one particular place, Syria, and differently. The United States decision, President Trump’s decision to withdraw our troops has been made. We will do that. And so it is possible to hold in your head the thought that we would withdraw our forces, our uniformed forces from Syria and continue America’s crushing campaign where we have taken down 99 percent of the caliphate in Syria and continue that. We are intent upon that, and I’ve told each of the leaders here in the region that I’ve met that we’re committed to that.
Your first question was about did Foreign Minister Shoukry and I talk about human rights. We never have a set of long conversations where we don’t talk about the things that matter to America and matter to the Egyptian people as well and the set of issues around human rights.
And your second question --
QUESTION: Did you raise the issue of prisoners?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Excuse me?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) raise the issue of prisoners?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We talk about the full template of human rights issues each time we engage. You had a second question.
QUESTION: That was about how the way Turkey and U.S. --
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. We’re engaged with complex discussions with them. Even as we speak, Ambassador Jeffrey is in the region. Our entire team is engaged in having the conversations about how we achieve all of the outcomes that are important there.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: If I might, Secretary, with your permission --
SECRETARY POMPEO: Of course.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: -- just to make a comment as it relates to the fight against terrorism, and we are partners in the coalition against the fight against Daesh. But it’s always necessary, this fight, the fact that the capabilities of ISIS or Daesh have been degraded to a very large extent, but the overall network of terrorist organizations I think is – goes far beyond that, and we see that in various organizations other than ISIS or ISIS-affiliated that might be operating under various names in Syria, (inaudible) in Libya, and in the Western – West Africa – Boko Haram, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Nusrah, the Muslim Brotherhood – they all are associated to the same ideology of fundamentalism, extremism, exclusion, and they resort to violence and terrorism. Thereby, this is a threat to – that we all face and one that we are determined to fully eradicate by dealing comprehensively with all of the organizations and all of the terrorist factions that are operating in this area and in the world generally.
Thank you very much.