President Donald Trump welcomed Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the White House for the second time Tuesday, lavishing praise on the Egyptian President who has been accused of human rights abuses.
“We’ve never had a better relationship, Egypt and the United States, than we do right now,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, noting that the two will discuss military and trade during the meeting and adding that the two countries have made progress on combating terrorism.
Trump was asked about Sisi’s efforts to stay in power until 2034. (A potential amendment to Egypt’s constitution would extend Sisi’s term in office.)
“I think he’s doing a great job, I don’t know about the effort, I can just tell you he’s doing a great job,” he said, calling Sisi a “great person.”
Human rights groups have accused the Egyptian regime of carrying out widespread and systematic torture of political prisoners, silencing dissidents and using death sentences to settle scores. Sisi’s government has denied the allegations.
An administration official briefing reporters ahead of Monday’s visit said that as it relates to human rights, the Trump administration is “focused on getting the return of US citizens who are detained in Egypt,” adding that they are also concerned about the treatment of religious minorities in Egypt.
Sisi emphasized through a translator that relations “have not been better.”
Trump also noted that first lady Melania Trump was recently in Egypt, having visited the pyramids in October.
“What she saw with the pyramids was – you could call it the 7th wonder or the 8th Wonder of the World. She thought it was one of the most incredible things she’s seen and we have lots of pictures,” he said. “But she’s not easily impressed, she was very impressed.”
Their meetings focused on security and the economy, but human rights were also to be discussed, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on a background call ahead of the visit.
Sisi last came the White House in April 2017, marking the first time an Egyptian leader had visited in seven years.
Earlier Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Sisi. Pompeo “re-affirmed the strength and importance of the US-Egypt bilateral relationship” and discussed counterterrorism efforts, “countering the Iranian regime’s malign influence” and “cases concerning US citizens in Egypt,” according to a readout.
A group of at least 15 Republican and Democratic senators sent a letter requesting that Pompeo broach the subjects of crackdowns on political freedoms and human rights and Egypt’s reported purchase of 20 Russian fighter aircraft, during his meeting with Sisi. The readout does not say whether Pompeo addressed those issues.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Amir Ahmed contributed to this report.