VP Pence in Egypt for talks on security, counterterrorism

Mike Pence
The Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence left behind the U.S. government shutdown and readied for security and counterterrorism talks Saturday with Egypt’s leader.

Pence arrived in Cairo hours after the U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump failed to reach agreement on a plan to avert a partial federal closure. Pence went ahead with his four-day trip to the Middle East, citing national security and diplomatic reasons.

Pence’s meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was expected to delve into security cooperation between the two countries, and efforts to fight the Islamic State group.

His visit to the region comes more than a month after Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a step that’s enraged Palestinians.

Pence planned to travel to Jordan later Saturday and then to Israel on Sunday. He was not expected to meet with Palestinians officials.

El-Sissi has built a strategic alliance with Trump and urged the American president to become more involved in the fight against Islamic militancy in the Middle East. Trump has praised el-Sissi for the April release of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi, who had been detained for nearly three years.

But Trump’s designation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital poses a dilemma for Egypt, which receives extensive military and economic aid from Washington but does not want to appear dismissive of Palestinian concerns.

White House officials said they expected the decision on the Israeli capital and Trump’s plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to come up in discussions between Pence and el-Sissi.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has condemned Trump over the Jerusalem announcement and warned that the U.S. can no longer play any role in future peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

El-Sissi has tried to reassure Abbas of his continued efforts to secure an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The Egyptian leader, who led the 2013 military overthrow of an Islamist president, has announced plans to run in the March election. El-Sissi is heavily favored to win a second four-year term after leading a heavy crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of opponents, including many of those behind the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

White House aides said Pence was expected to raise with el-Sissi the importance of human rights, political freedoms and freedom of expression.

Pence had initially planned to visit the region in December, shortly after Trump’s announcement, but the trip was postponed in the aftermath of Abbas’ refusal to meet the vice president in Bethlehem.

The spiritual leaders of Egypt’s Muslims and Orthodox Christians also canceled their meetings with Pence.

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On Twitter follow Ken Thomas at @KThomasDC.

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