Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper welcomed Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Mohamed Zaki to the Pentagon for the secretary's first counterpart meeting since taking office.
"The United States-Egypt strategic relationship is a top priority for this administration and department, and I look forward to continuing our militaries' close partnership across a wide range of issues," Esper said at the beginning of the Pentagon meeting.
Egypt is a key ally in the Middle East, the secretary said, adding that the two men will discuss a wide range of mutual interests, from counterterrorism to maritime security to capacity building.
Esper wants to expand U.S. counterterrorism cooperation with Egypt, and the meeting will look down that road. He also wants the Egyptian leader's thoughts on the situation in Libya — where there is a civil war — and Iran. "Egypt has a powerful voice, and we welcome your efforts to support stability throughout the region," Esper said.
Zaki said through a translator that the discussions are appropriate given the "deteriorating security situation in the Middle East." He said he hopes the talks will lead to increased cooperation and coordination across a wide range of security issues and that the military talks help set the stage for the entire U.S.-Egyptian relationship.
The defense minister praised U.S. efforts to help Egypt build military capacity to "realize national security." Egypt is uniquely positioned as an Arab country in Africa and the Middle East to spread "the culture of peace," he said. Egypt is a member of both the Arab League and the African Union, and it has the largest military on the African continent.
Egypt also can serve "as the cornerstone for regional security in addition to securing the U.S. interests," Zaki said.
On average, the United States provides $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt each year. The nation operates American armored vehicles and flies American aircraft. There is an active exchange program between the countries.