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Trump Welcomes Egypt's Sissi To Washington In Reboot Of Bilateral Ties

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Trump hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi today. Sissi came to power after a 2013 military coup and had a troubled relationship with the Obama administration. But the White House calls this a new day, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In his first visit to the White House, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was eager to show that he's building up close ties to President Trump.

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PRESIDENT ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI: (Through interpreter) I've had a deep appreciation and admiration of your unique personality.

KELEMEN: The two men first met last year in New York during the U.S. presidential election campaign, and both are vowing to step up the fight against ISIS.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We agree on so many things. I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President el-Sissi. He's done a fantastic job in at very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt.

KELEMEN: Missing at least in Trump's public remarks were any concerns about an Egyptian government crackdown that has sent tens of thousands of people to jail. The White House says it prefers to talk about those topics in a discreet way.

A bipartisan group in Congress, though, introduced a resolution calling on Egypt to take steps toward political and human rights reforms. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, explains why.

BEN CARDIN: This is an important country. We've got to get it right, but getting it right means more than just the strategic partnership. It's also - Egypt's future depends upon its advancement on the reform agenda.

KELEMEN: And Cardin worries that the Trump administration is ignoring that.

CARDIN: The Trump administration has been unfortunately silent as to the importance of American values.

KELEMEN: Cardin and his colleagues are to meet with President Sissi this week and plan to bring up specific cases including that of American Aya Hijazi, who ran a home for street children and has been in jail for nearly three years. Another American who got out of prison because of U.S. pressure, Mohamed Soltan, is challenging the Trump administration to do more on this front.

MOHAMED SOLTAN: The current administration should stick to its own America-first policy. We should demand that our citizens be released and others be released.

KELEMEN: There are about 20 Americans still languishing in Egyptian jails caught up in the broad crackdown on dissent. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.