Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at a Joint Press Availability
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
JANUARY 30, 2023
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via translation) Good evening.
I’m glad to welcome my dear friend Secretary Blinken once again in Egypt. I’m happy to receive him here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We value the friendly relations between our countries and we are keen on enhancing these relations on the basis of mutual respect and interests. The variety of issues that have been tackled during our discussions reflected the clear rapprochement regarding our strategic interests and showed also our matching visions towards several issues, and also showed great potential to develop our strategic partnership in many fields.
Secretary Blinken was received this morning by President Sisi, and during the meeting, they tackled the bilateral relations between the two countries, the strategic nature of these relations, and the consistency in visions of the two countries whether in regards to developing the strategic relations or international and regional issues. We greatly depend on the cooperation between Egypt and the United States to achieve stability in the Middle East, and to push forward the development efforts according to the principles of international legitimacy and according to the mutual interests that we’re working to enhance.
The Middle East region took up a large part of the discussions of Secretary Blinken with the president or in our wider discussions as the Palestinian issue was discussed, and the importance of achieving stability and preventing escalation to find the right political framework to reach a permanent, comprehensive, and just solution for the Palestinian issue on the basis of the two-state solution. For sure, the latest developments were unfortunate and we are working on containing the situation and reaching calm bearing into consideration the interests of all parties and the stability of the region.
Our meeting also discussed the GERD issue and the importance of continuing the joint action to preserve the interests of all three parties according to international law and legitimate rights to preserve water resources and ensure Egypt’s water security. We also tackled the issues of Libya, and Sudan, and the importance of joint action to face all the challenges that we both work to overcome, like combating terrorism and extremism, which are considered top priorities.
We are working together to convene the joint economic committee this year on the occasion of 100 years of relations, and this has increasing importance in light of the current economic conditions and the pressures facing not only Egypt but also facing many other developing countries. We are looking forward to more U.S. investments and joint actions to face these challenges and overcome these difficulties.
I welcome again Mr. Secretary. I’m happy to be meeting and I consider him a friend. Our meetings are always fruitful and help in enhancing our mutual interests, and we will keep in contact during the coming period to achieve our mutual interests. The floor is yours, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first of all, good afternoon, everyone. And Mr. Shoukry, Sameh, thank you. Thank you for your wonderful hospitality today, but thank you for the friendship and partnership over many, many years. As the minister said, we have known each other for a long time going back to the days when the minister was ambassador to Washington, and I very much value the relationship that we have that we’ve built over many years. And I also want to express appreciation to the president for receiving us today and for the time that we were able to spend together and the very good conversation that we had.
We’ve had an opportunity to come together many times over the last months and last couple of years, including most recently at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, COP27 of course here in Egypt, the Negev Forum and – in Washington and Cairo separately. And this regular engagement is a reflection of how much our countries, both of us, value the strategic partnership between us, and how important it is to the region and, indeed, to the entire world. Both the United States and Egypt are firmly committed to deepening that bilateral relationship.
A key priority in that relationship is building on the longstanding economic cooperation that we’ve had to the mutual benefit of Americans and Egyptians. Through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, we are supporting a $600 million project to build an undersea telecommunications cable that will connect Singapore to France through Egypt and the Horn of Africa, delivering high-speed, reliable, secure connections for people across the continents, including Egyptians.
Egypt has some of the best solar and wind energy potential in the world. We recently sent a green economy trade mission to ensure that American companies are competing in this country’s renewable energy market. We’re committed to establishing and moving forward, as you heard the minister say, on the Joint Economic Commission to actually build even greater cooperation on economic and commercial issues. And the goal in all of this, as we discussed today, including with the president, is to produce concrete results, to produce real, new opportunities for people – jobs, livelihoods, a better future. That’s the common objective.
We’re also partnering very closely on the climate crisis, which is also its own opportunity to create good paying jobs for our people. We conveyed the appreciation for Egypt’s leadership during the COP27, as well as the national commitments that it made, including a pledge to quadruple its renewable energy share through the NWFE and adopt an ambitious 2050 emissions reductions target. We in the United States are very proud to support these efforts, including through a new public-private partnership that aims to raise $50 million to preserve the extraordinary Red Sea coral reef.
The climate crisis further underscores the importance of a swift diplomatic resolution to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. We have heard clearly from Egyptian leadership that this is an existential concern for Egypt. We appreciate that fact. We’re committed to working toward a settlement that advances the interests of all parties, that supports the water security, the economic development, and the livelihood of Egyptians, and also their neighbors in Sudan and in Ethiopia. Like all difficult discussions, that process is best served by a spirit of flexibility and compromise from all sides, but we fully recognize and appreciate the quite literally existential issues – interests that Egypt has in water.
Throughout its history, Egypt has spearheaded efforts to address some of the world’s most complex challenges and promoted a more peaceful, a more secure, and a more prosperous region. It continues to play that role, and that role remains as critical – maybe even more critical than it’s ever been. Egypt’s engagement in the Negev Forum is helping to accelerate cooperation between Israel and its neighbors, contributing to a more integrated and ultimately more prosperous region.
Just a few weeks ago, we had delegations from the Government of the United States and Egypt joining those from Israel, Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi for the first meeting of the working groups under the Negev Forum, where we’re working together on some of the most important issues affecting the lives and livelihoods of people in all of our countries – food security, clean water technology, health care, regional security. This was the largest gathering of representatives from Arab countries in Israel since the Madrid process.
Egypt has also consistently played a critical role in de-escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, including helping to broker a ceasefire when violence escalated in 2021, and then again last year in 2022. Today, as we see a new and horrifying surge in violence, I discussed with President Sisi and with the foreign minister how we can work together, as always, to reduce tensions, to restore calm.
Egypt’s leadership has been critical in addressing the ongoing crisis in Libya; you heard the minister address that as well. Holding elections this year is the only viable path to a durable solution and to ensuring that the Libyans people – the Libyan people, excuse me, actually have the right to choose their own leaders. The progress on a constitutional basis for elections announced in Egypt earlier this month was an important step forward in that direction. Now, we stand behind the work of the United Nations special representative in forging a credible roadmap to swift and early elections in Libya.
We also discussed our ongoing efforts to support the Sudanese-led political process that’s aimed at restoring Sudan’s transition to democracy. Sudan’s future depends on forging a government that meets its people’s demand for freedom, for peace, for justice. And the stability that will come with that in turn will bring economic and security benefits to people across the region.
Human Rights was also, as it is, a top item on our agenda today, as it is with partners around the world and in our conversations with many other countries. The United States welcomes the important steps that Egypt has taken to protect freedom of religion, to empower women. We welcome the establishment of a national dialogue, the release of hundreds of detainees, the reactivating of a presidential pardons committee. We’ll continue to encourage the Egyptian Government to take further actions to pursue concrete progress, including further releases of prisoners, reforms to pretrial detention, and other law enforcement practices; protecting the essential work of civil society, including journalists, human rights defenders; and making sure that all Egyptians can freely express themselves without any fear of reprisal. That’s the message I shared when I met with leading Egyptian human rights defenders yesterday.
Making tangible and lasting improvements on human rights is essential to strengthening even more our bilateral relationship. It’s a priority for members of our Congress from both of our parties. And it’s fundamentally in the interest of the Egyptian people, which is why I know the President is pursuing these efforts.
Finally, we discussed Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine. Egypt’s votes in the United Nations to condemn Russia’s invasion and reject Moscow’s attempts to illegally annex parts of Ukraine have been a powerful demonstration of support for the principles that are at the heart of the United Nations Charter, to which both of our countries adhere, including the right of every nation to have its territorial integrity respected, its sovereignty respected. When Egypt stands up for the shared principles, countries around the world take notice.
Russia’s war, of course, is exacting severe costs on people here in Egypt, half a world away. Egypt is the biggest importer of wheat in the world, and up to 85 percent of its supplies have traditionally come from Russia and Ukraine. We’ve been working to mitigate the damage that’s been done, the economic strain that’s been imposed on Egypt by supporting its long-term capacity to produce its own food, including a $50 million investment to help support smallholder farmers, which builds on the more than $1.4 billion that we provided to the Egyptian agricultural sector over recent decades. As well, we’re addressing assistance to help try to meet the more immediate, urgent concerns, again, that have been dramatically exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Last year, our countries marked more than – marked, excuse me, a hundred years of bilateral relations. We are proud of this shared history, but ultimately it is our shared future that we’re focused on and that our discussions today and everyday focus on. Yesterday I got a chance to meet with some young Egyptian leaders who are shaping that future in virtually every arena – from journalism to business, from medicine to high technology. And seeing their dynamism, their energy, their vision gives me great confidence that the future of Egypt and the future of our relationship is bright, is strong, and will carry us forward.
With that, I thank you.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: (Via translation) Minister Sameh Shoukry. U.S.- Egyptian relations are strategic and extend over many decades. The current economic crisis in the world is very tough, and Egypt has been affected in many areas. However, there is a feeling among many Egyptians that U.S. economic aid is not up to the standard of the relationship as the United States is the biggest economy. Did you feel during today’s meetings that there will be a change in the level and amount of support? Secretary Blinken pointed out the projects that will be implemented in the energy field and other types of funding. Would you summarize to us what has been agreed upon? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via translation) Thank you. Egypt values the economic aspect of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship and the development that we have achieved during the last four decades in this regard, starting from the economic aid which was provided and which was reduced due to U.S. needs, and how Egypt responded to that. We are looking forward to more cooperation and contribution from the United States as it has well-known capabilities and, for sure, the projects mentioned by Mr. Secretary are very important, but they are projects limited to technical aspects.
However, the crisis that we’re facing, and other developing countries are currently facing as well – such as high inflation, food security and energy security pressure, and high prices – are all issues that need more cooperation within the framework of the strategic relationship, and there is a need to make use more of U.S. potential, whether through working with international financing institutions or through the bilateral relations.
I felt that Secretary Blinken understood and appreciated these economic pressures, and there is a desire to contribute to alleviating these pressures. And we hope the coming meetings of the joint economic committee will help create a framework and effective mechanisms that are useful to us, and this is not just limited to the fruitful cooperation between the private sectors in both countries as Egypt host many U.S. company. The U.S. administration also has mechanisms regarding the export guarantee and other U.S. resources that may relieve the burden on the Egyptian people and the Egyptian economy in this critical time.
We have great ambition and our partner should help us cherish this ambition within the framework of the strategic relation and mutual benefit. The stability of Egypt and its strength contribute to realizing the mutual interests of both countries and reaping benefits for both sides.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: Thank you. Good to see you, Mr. Secretary, again. Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his cabinet meeting, threatened to deport Palestinian families of perpetrators of attack against Israel and stripping them of their nationality. Israel has been demolishing Palestinian homes as well. Do you see this as a collective punishment? Is it a violation of international law, and will it lead to escalation?
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. First, just very quickly, on the last question – because I just wanted to add very quickly to that on the economic relationship and the work we’re doing. You’re right, of course, that there’s a long history here. Over the course of the last decades, the United States has provided about $30 billion in economic assistance to Egypt. But what we’re focused on now is the current challenge and also the current opportunity.
The current challenge is this: Egypt, like a number of other countries, many of us, is being buffeted by an almost perfect storm of events that are having a direct and clear impact on the day-in, day-out lives of the Egyptian people. Global inflation is having a big impact. Rising food prices, energy prices – much of this exacerbated by events happening half a world away, as I mentioned. The Russian aggression against Ukraine has had an impact on both of those. The effort to rebound from COVID, disruptions to the global supply chain – so many of these things coming together in a perfect storm and having a real impact on people’s lives. We’re very conscious of that, concerned about that, and working closely together to help address that. I mentioned some of the ways we’re working to address food insecurity. There’s much that we’re doing on energy as well.
But I would just highlight both the – some of the projects that I mentioned that are already underway, including the undersea cable, which is significant, but also the work of this Joint Economic Commission, which we’re standing up and, as the minister and I agreed, really needs to focus on concrete, tangible things that can produce opportunity for people. And we’ll have a lot more to say about that in the weeks ahead, but it’s important and it’s a sign of the commitment we have to working together to strengthen our economic relationship, to provide more investment, more trade. I would say also that the work that Egypt is doing, including under the new IMF program in terms of the reforms that it’s making, is very important for the long-term economic success of Egypt.
With regard to the question on Israel, I’ll have a lot more to say in Israel when I’m there and on the West Bank over the next day or so. I want to have an opportunity to hear from everyone concerned, and I’ll be doing that. There is no question that this is a very difficult moment. We’ve seen the horrific terrorist attacks in recent days. We’ve seen over many months rising violence that is affecting so many. As you heard very clearly, the condemnation from the United States of the terrorist attacks – the President, the Vice President, myself. And we deplore overall the loss of innocent civilian life. We’ll be reiterating that message and encouraging the parties to take steps to calm things down, to de-escalate tensions. We, like Egypt, continue to stand behind the importance of working toward a two-state solution. I’ll have more to say about that as well.
And I would just note that throughout all of this, Egypt has played a very important role. As I mentioned, Cairo’s efforts last year and the year before to help diffuse two crises was instrumental in successfully diffusing them. And Egypt, like us, is a stalwart believer in the negotiated two-state solution, the only path to a lasting resolution to the conflict and, critically, equal measures of democracy, opportunity, and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: (Via translation) Omar from Sky News Arabia. A question to the Egyptian foreign minister: From Minister Blinken’s words and what was issued yesterday by the U.S. State Department, which was an affirmation of Egypt’s role in calming and stabilizing the region – so after meeting President Sisi, I mean, did a reaffirmation of this matter happen? Did you discuss with the U.S. side a possible Egyptian role or a partnership between Egypt and Cairo and Washington in this file? Can we hear in the coming days what can be described as an initiative that unites the efforts of Cairo and Washington in this context, especially since Minister Blinken will go today and tomorrow to Palestine and Israel? Will he carry this perception? Can there be a role for Egypt in this context?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via translation) Certainly there is an extended and continuous partnership between Egypt and the United States to deal with all regional issues, especially the Palestinian cause, and to work not only to calm things down and not escalate tensions, but also to find an appropriate political path in accordance with the rules of international legitimacy and in accordance with international consensus on the need to reach a permanent and comprehensive solution through a negotiation process, a political path based on the principle of a two-state solution, Egypt’s efforts, whether in cooperation with the United States and its other partners, or within the framework of its bilateral relations with all parties – whether it is the Palestinian National Authority, Israel, Jordan, the Arab countries – to always work towards achieving stability and achieving interests for all.
The parties coexist together to get out of this crisis and its destructive effects on the security and stability of the peoples of the entire region, and the broad prospects for resolving this crisis and a permanent solution and the establishment of the Palestinian state to completely change the map of the region or unleash its capabilities and capabilities. Certainly cooperation with the United States and coordination in that is necessary and important, and we do this and play supportive roles for each other, and we also formulate a vision in which there is a lot of consensus on the steps which we take considering the two parties to the conflict and any initiatives that are crystallized through consultations and agreement on the best ways to achieve our common goal.
Regarding the question from Al Arabiya, I imagine that it is important to deal with all issues with one standard, but rather we are talking about the importance of not taking unilateral measures, not taking escalatory measures that inflame feelings and are outside the scope of international laws and legitimacy. It is always important that we have credibility by dealing with all measures according to a single criterion and in accordance with considerations of principles established in international law, in international covenants, and rules also related to human rights, all of which are interrelated and cannot be in isolation from each other.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, first, does the U.S. see the attack attributed to Israel on a defense factory in Isfahan as harmful or helpful to its broader goal of containing Iran? And second, the Biden administration has repeatedly raised with Egyptian officials the cases of political prisoners, including Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer, and Mohammed Oxygen. Why do you think Egypt hasn’t listened to the U.S. and other governments’ calls to release them?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. I don’t have much to say with regard to what’s been reported in Iran. I’ve seen the reports and I really don’t have anything to add to them at this time. I’ll say more generally, though, that for the United States as well as for many of our partners in the region, it is very important that we continue to deal with and work against, as necessary, the various actions that Iran is engaged in throughout the region – and beyond the region – that threaten peace and security and human life.
We see that in the region with its support for terrorism. We see that for its support for destabilizing actions in a variety of countries. And now, of course, we’re seeing that in a very different part of the world with its support for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, with the provision of drones and potentially other military technology. And of course, we see what’s happening on the streets of Iran as people are simply trying to stand up to be able to voice their views and are not being allowed to do so. So this is something that’s part of the conversation that we’re having across the region, including here in Egypt, as well as, of course, in Israel and with other partners.
With regard to human rights individual cases, I have raised in the past and again raised today individuals. That’s important. So too, though, are – is progress on systemic change, and I mentioned the issue of pretrial detentions. I also again want to point to the fact that Egypt has taken important strides in recent years. I mentioned the protection of religious freedom, the empowerment of women, steps now to stand up a national dialogue, to revive the pardons committee, to also move forward with some releases. But the concerns that we have remain, and in the spirit of candor and the spirit of partnership that we have, we express those very clearly. I can’t answer for you why the government does or does not do certain things. Those are its prerogatives. But we share our views, our concerns, and we look to Egypt to continue to take action.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, my friend.