Washington — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta offered a positive outlook on U.S.-Egyptian relations following meetings in Cairo with President Mohammed Morsi and the country's military chief.
"I just completed some very productive meetings with President Morsi and Field Marshal [Mohammed Hussein] Tantawi. It was my first meeting with President Morsi, and I congratulated him and the Egyptian people on this important moment in Egypt's transition to democracy," Panetta told reporters along with U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson during a press roundtable in Cairo July 31.
"I also met with Field Marshal Tantawi, and my message today was consistent with our previous conversations. The U.S. strongly supports an orderly, peaceful and legitimate transition to a democratic system of government here in Egypt," Panetta said.
Panetta said Tantawi's leadership has been critical in overseeing a peaceful, free and fair election, and he commended Tantawi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces "on their positive role in this process."
Panetta is on a four-nation visit to the Middle East and North Africa. He has already met with Tunisian leaders in Tunis. He is scheduled to meet with Israeli leaders before completing his trip in Jordan.
During their talks, Panetta said, Tantawi affirmed his continuing commitment to the transition to full civilian rule in Egypt. "The United States strongly supports Egypt's democratic future, and we have an interest in seeing Egypt succeed," Panetta said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a visit to Alexandria, Egypt, earlier in July that the United States is committed to economic assistance that will help Egyptians create jobs, grow their economy and widen prosperity.
Panetta said he discussed a range of shared security challenges with Tantawi, from violent extremism to concerns surrounding Egypt's border, and that these challenges are best confronted cooperatively. He also noted that Egypt's leaders affirmed the importance of honoring international commitments.
"Going forward, we are committed to helping a sovereign Egypt complete the transformation to full civilian rule," Panetta told reporters.
Panetta noted some of the challenges that lie ahead for the Egyptians, including putting in place democratic institutions of government and constitutional reforms, strengthening the economy, providing for the security of Egypt, and promoting a broad-based coalition that is critical to the success of government.
During the meeting with journalists, Panetta said he is convinced that Morsi makes his own decisions and that he is the president of all the Egyptian people and is committed to implementing democratic reforms in Egypt.
"And it's my view, based on what I have seen and the discussions I've had, that President Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi have a very good relationship and are working together towards the same ends," Panetta said.
Panetta added that the United States and Egypt are committed to ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.