By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 5, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates praised Egypt today as a key U.S. ally and said progress on a wide range of security issues in the region will require Egypt's "full participation and leadership." Speaking with reporters at Egypt's presidential palace after meeting with President Hosni Mubarek and Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Gates reported on "very productive meetings" that he said reinforced a longstanding bilateral friendship.
"We discussed a number of security issues, including Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli issue and steps in Iraq, and the opportunities for more cooperation among nations of the Middle East," he said.
"It will take full participation and leadership from Egypt to see progress on these issues, as has always been the case," the secretary said.
Gates also added that he looks forward to expanding the two countries' military-to-military relationships in ways that promote regional stability. He noted the Bright Star exercise series as an example of the activities and exchanges he said strengthen the U.S. armed forces as much as Egypt's.
"Our military has benefitted from the interactions with the Egyptian armed forces – one of the most professional and capable in the region," he said. "We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises."
As he heads for Saudi Arabia, Gates said, he will encourage leaders there to exert their influence to help the Pakistani government stand up to extremists.
"Saudi Arabia clearly has a lot of influence throughout the entire region," he said, including a longstanding relationship with Pakistan. "I think the key here is all of us doing what we can to help the Pakistani government deal with the emergent threat to its own existence from these violent extremists. And I think the Saudis, along with others, can play a constructive role."
Gates called recent Taliban attacks that reached within 60 miles of Islamabad "a wake-up call" to many in Pakistan that extremists group there pose "a real danger to the Pakistani government." Pakistan's response in dispatching army forces into the Bruner district demonstrates that the government recognizes the threat, he said.
Gates also expressed hope that tomorrow's Washington summit meeting among the presidents of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan will bear fruit.
"My hope is that ... there will be a common agreement on the nature of the threat and the importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan working closely together with the United States and other partners to try to deal with that threat," he said.