U.S. Defense Secretary begins Middle East visit

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The United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has visited Jordan to kick-start a three-country Mideast visit.

U.S officials say the visit is aimed at reassuring key allies of the U.S commitment to the region despite Washington’s recent focus on Russia and China.

The Pentagon chief, who arrived in Amman on Sunday, is expected to press Israeli leaders to reduce tensions in the West Bank and work to strength ties in talks with Egyptian leaders while touching on human rights concerns.

“Austin will convey enduring U.S. commitment to the Middle East and provide reassurance to our partners that the United States remains committed to supporting their defense,” a senior U.S. defense official said.

The United States has about 30,000 troops in the region and is seen as pivotal in helping counter Iranian influence.

Retired U.S. Marine Corp General Frank McKenzie, who headed American forces in the Middle East until last year, said the region is significant to the United States in part because of China’s growing role.

“I think this trip is an excellent example of an opportunity to continue to tell people in the theater (region) that they remain important to us,” added McKenzie.

The United States last week demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repudiate a call by his hardline Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for a flashpoint Palestinian village to be “erased” – a comment that Netanyahu on Sunday called “inappropriate.” The U.S. State Department has called Smotrich’s comment “repugnant.”

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Austin is poised to send a clear message on the need for Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to respect human rights, underscoring Washington’s concern on the issue.

Under Sisi, who as army chief led the 2013 ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, there has been a long crackdown on political dissent that has swept up liberal critics as well as Islamists.

The United States has withheld small amounts of military aid to Cairo, citing a failure to meet human rights conditions. Advocacy groups have pushed for more to be held back.

Mistrust toward the United States among some in the Middle East has built up since the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings when Gulf rulers were shocked at how President Barack Obama’s administration abandoned the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after a decades-old alliance.

The United States pulled out the last of its troops from Afghanistan in a chaotic withdrawal in 2021, further raising questions in the broader region about Washington’s commitment.


Zainab Sa’id

Source Reuters
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