Pompeo in Egypt amid concerns over US Mideast policy

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was holding talks with Egyptian leaders in Cairo on Thursday as he continued a nine-nation Mideast tour aimed at reassuring America’s Arab partners that the Trump administration is not walking away from the region.

Amid confusion and concern over plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, Pompeo was meeting Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss security and economic cooperation. He was also to deliver a speech on U.S.-Egypt relations and the administration’s broader Mideast objectives.

President Donald Trump has boasted of his close relationship with el-Sissi, a former general who has been criticized for his human rights record and democratic shortcomings. The Trump administration has resumed weapons sales to Egypt that has been suspended over human rights concerns, including the jailing of several American citizens on what U.S. officials say are false charges.

Shortly before Pompeo got to Cairo, the State Department released a fact sheet detailing close U.S. cooperation with Egypt that noted some improvements in the country’s human rights record. It said Washington welcomed the recent acquittal of employees of American civil society groups who had been “wrongly convicted of improperly operating in Egypt” and said the U.S. supports el-Sissi’s pledges “to amend Egyptian law to prevent future miscarriages of justice.”

On Wednesday, however, an Egyptian court sentenced a leading activist behind the country’s 2011 uprising to 15 years in prison after convicting him of taking part in clashes between protesters and security forces later that year.

The statement went on to laud Egypt for its “vital role” in regional security and stability and lauded el-Sissi for being “a steadfast partner in the anti-terror fight and a courageous voice in denouncing the radical Islamist ideology that fuels it.”

Pompeo arrived in Egypt after stops in Jordan and Iraq where he sought to assure leaders that withdrawing from Syria doesn’t mean the U.S. is abandoning the fight against the Islamic State group or easing pressure on Iran. From Egypt, Pompeo will travel to the Gulf Arab states of Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait to press the case.

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