The U.S. Navy’s most senior officer met with Egyptian naval officials Sunday as the U.S. government relaxed restrictions on defense sales and operations with the strategic North African country. The meeting, which comes amid joint operations in the Red Sea, represents a warming of ties between Cairo and Washington, but also comes in the wake of renewed relations between Egypt and Russia.
Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, met with Egyptian Rear Adm. Osama Mounir Rabie, who was appointed as Egypt's chief of navy in April.
"This visit was important to me to re-establish the relationship with the head of the Egyptian navy," Greenert said Sunday in a phone interview from Alexandria with Military Times. "They've been doing well out here under the circumstances given the dynamics of the country."
Relations between the U.S. and Egypt have been strained in the last four years, primarily because of the political upheaval resulting from the 2011 Arab Spring and further concerns about Cairo’s government in 2013, which saw military operations between the two countries canceled and defense sales postponed.
However, Greenert’s visit on behalf of the Navy comes at a time of turmoil in the Middle East where the U.S. is looking to gain more strategic allies as it looks to contain Iran’s government, calm relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and continue the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
"I wanted to get an agenda [from the Egyptians] that is clear and coherent," Greenert said. The visit "says our mil-to-mil relations are ready to move ahead at a deliberate pace, at a pace that makes sense to them.”
"We've had a pretty long tradition of good working relations with the Egyptian Navy," Greenert noted, also suggesting traditional naval operations with Egypt would resume immediately.
But if the U.S. wants to normalize relations with Egypt, it will have to contend with Russia’s friendly advances too. In June, the Kremlin conducted military operations with Egyptian ships in an exercise dubbed Friendship Bridge 2015.