WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon urged restraint from Egypt’s military in face-to-face talks with a top Egyptian general in Washington, before his delegation was called home on Friday because of massive anti-government protests.
Lieutenant General Sami Enan, chief of staff of Egypt’s armed forces, abruptly cut short talks in Washington that were due to run through February 2.
“He intends to return today,” General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Before his departure, Alexander Vershbow, a U.S. assistant secretary of defense, urged restraint during talks with Enan on Wednesday and Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said, without elaborating.
Lapan said the 25-member Egyptian delegation was heading home on Friday evening.
Egypt receives about $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid and Washington views Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a critical partner — a linchpin for future Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and a bulwark against Iran’s regional clout.
But the White House said its aid to Egypt now was under review, as Egyptian troops took to the streets on Friday to try to control crowds demanding Mubarak step down.
Egypt’s armed forces — the world’s 10th biggest with more than 468,000 members — have been at the heart of power since army officers staged an overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.
All four Egyptian presidents since then have come from the military, now led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 75, who is defense minister and commander in chief.
Enan ranks below him but is one of the top military officers in Egypt and carries considerable clout.
A Middle East military expert in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Enan as someone who appeared to have the respect of the United States.
“He certainly seems competent,” the expert said.
Cartwright said the protests also came up in informal chats in the Pentagon hallways, between the members of Egypt’s delegation and U.S. officials.
“It would be hard to have ignored the fact that this was going on. And it wasn’t ignored,” Cartwright said.
There are about 625 U.S. military personnel in Egypt. The U.S. has provided F-16 jet fighters, tanks, armored personnel carriers, Apache helicopters, anti-aircraft missile batteries and other equipment to the Egyptian military.
Editing by Peter Cooney and Paul Simao