U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday afternoon, July 29, met Egypt’s Defense Minister Gen. Mohamed Zaki for discussions at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

Esper welcomed Zaki and his delegation in a ceremony with a cannon salute outside on the Pentagon lawn. “It’s a pleasure to have you and your team with us here today,” said Esper, highlighting that Zaki is “the first counterpart” hosted since his appointment as U.S. secretary of defense.

Speaking in Arabic, Egypt’s Defense Minister Zaki thanked Esper for organizing and hosting the meeting. He stated that their meeting coincided with the complexities of the current weakening security situation in the Middle East.

Zaki continued emphasizing the need for improved direction and understanding in order to reach a joint perspective over handling the security issues in the Middle East region.

Esper stressed strengthening military ties with Egypt. “United States and Egypt’s strategic relationship is a top priority for this administration and for this department,” said Esper. He continued underscoring the U.S.’s close military partnership with Egypt on a wide range of issues.

Esper signaled counterterrorism as a key dialogue topic, “Counterterrorism is one of those enduring issues.” He extended condolences for Egypt’s recent military losses, sustained during their response to terrorist attacks in the Sinai.

For his part, the Egyptian defense minister highlighted the weakening security situation in the Middle East. Zaki called for mutual ties with the United States. He stated that Egypt is currently facing increasing challenges and threats due to the deteriorating security situation surrounding Egypt from all strategic directions.

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Zaki stated that Egypt looks to the support from its partners and in particular from the United States to enhance its military and security capabilities in order to overcome the security challenges his country is currently facing.

Egypt is willing to undertake its responsibility in sharing and restoring security and regional stability, continued Zaki.

In reply, Esper welcomed Zaki’s insights on how to improve U.S-Egyptian cooperation and his understanding on regional security, including Libya and Iran.

During the meeting, the two leaders met to discuss mutual security concerns in the Middle East and also to reaffirm the strong military ties between the United States and Egypt.