Tillerson says US backs Egypt on security at start of regional tour

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a media opportunity with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic at the State Department in Washington Friday Feb. 9 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expects "difficult" talks during his Middle East trip, especially in Turkey, where he will urge the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally to show "restraint" in its military offensive in northern Syria, U.S. officials say.

The visit comes as Egypt is undertaking a major military operation in Sinai, where Islamic militants have been leading an insurgency for years, and in remote areas of the mainland where extremists have attacked security forces and civilians.

Turkey, a USA ally, has launched a military air and ground operation into the Afrin region in northwest Syria targeting the Kurdish YPG militia despite U.S. objections.

"We agreed we would continue our close cooperation on counter-terrorism measures", Tillerson said.

"The Egyptian people should be confident that the US commitment to continue to support Egypt in fight against terrorism and bringing security to Egyptian people is steadfast".

Tillerson also will meet with foreign ministers about the next step in foiling Islamic State militants by stopping them at borders and deterring recruits.

A US State Department official said Tillerson's talks in Egypt would focus on "regional issues of mutual concern such as Libya and Syria, our shared commitment to fighting terrorism", and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tillerson also met Sisi before leaving the country.

After Cairo, Mr Tillerson is to head to Kuwait to take part in a ministerial meeting of the US-led military coalition that has been battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

WH Refutes Reports That General John Kelly Is Leaving Position
However, Trump had said that Porter's departure was "very sad" and "he did a very good job while he was in the White House". In his capacity at the White House, Porter was responsible for controlling the flow of documents to the President's desk.

Mr Tillerson landed in Cairo late on Sunday and had dinner with Mr Shoukry.

Sisi is running against a single challenger in the March 26-28 poll after more challenging opponents pulled out, some citing intimidation of supporters and other tactics created to give the incumbent an easy win.

Egypt also faces a Mar 26-28 election in which Sisi has only a single, last-minute challenger who had previously said he supported the incumbent.

Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually from the United States.

He also reiterated calls for free and fair elections in Egypt, where presidential polls are slated for next month.

Another State Department official said Washington supported a "genuine and a credible electoral process".

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has existed since the Western-backed creation of Israel and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1948.

Tillerson said Washington remained committed to working for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, adding that Trump's decision on Jerusalem in December did not set final boundaries for the city and that Washington believes it has an "important role to play to bring a resolution" to the crisis.

In Jordan, Tillerson will be doing damage control, after President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and his administration's subsequent decision to withhold aid money from the United Nations agency assisting Palestinian refugees.

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