US defence secretary to visit Egypt

US defence secretary to visit Egypt

US Defense Secretary, Leon E. Panetta is expected to meet with Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf amid a Middle East tour to reaffirm the Defence Department's security relationships Alahramonline reported

"The main purpose of this trip," Leon told reporters during his flight to the Middle East, "is to try to reaffirm our security relationship with important allies and with important partnerships that we have in that part of the world."

Panetta and the Egyptian officials will discuss topics that include the Egyptian military's efforts in leading the country's transitional period, reaffirm the commitment to a strong and long-term defence relationship between the two countries and stress the US's commitment to assist the Egyptian armed forces.

"I want to thank General Tantawi for the help he provided [in September] pursuant to my request when the Israeli embassy was under siege," the secretary said. "He was willing to respond and respond quickly to try to help in that situation and I deeply appreciate that."

Panetta said he will urge the Egyptians "to proceed with putting the election process in place so Egypt can move toward a civilian government that represents the will of the people, represents their desires and represents their hopes...Whatever assistance ... we can provide to help them in that process, we certainly are willing to do."

During his tour Panetta is also expected to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders before heading to Brussels to visit the NATO headquarters.

Panetta will discuss with both leaders the strong bilateral defense relationship between the US and Israel and the major security issues across the regionand on Israel's borders and the changes taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.

In Israel, Panetta said, it's important "to reaffirm our strong security relationship" and to "make clear that we will protect their qualitative military edge, and that ... as they take risks for peace that we will be able to provide the security they will need" to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

He will also discuss the situation in Iran and what steps needed to be taken to stop it from pursuing its nuclear capabilities, undermine regional stability and promote terrorism, saying that it is best if Israel and all the nations in the region who are concerned about Iran to work together.

"The most effective way to deal with Iran is not on a unilateral basis," the secretary said, "[but] to unify an effort to confront Iran directly that they have to change their ways."

Panetta added that the US will help Israel to try to "improve relations with some of its neighboring countries ... particularly with countries like Turkey and Egypt."

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