WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A high-level Egyptian military delegation was in Washington on Friday for pre-scheduled defense talks, even as Egypt’s army took to the streets to face unrest sweeping the country.
Chief of staff of Egypt’s armed forces, Lieutenant General Sami Enan, is leading his delegation in the week-long talks that started on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said.
Lapan said he expected the meetings to continue as planned, despite the unrest, and that he did not believe the “optics” of the talks — the 27th annual installment — were a concern.
“We, the Department of Defense, have had a long-standing military-military relationship with Egypt,” Lapan said.
Egypt receives about $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic assistance — second only to Israel.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak imposed a curfew and ordered troops to back up police on Friday as they struggled to control crowds calling for his ouster.
The country’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, in Washington, ranks below him but is one of the top military officers in Egypt.
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.
Enan is scheduled to attend meetings at the Pentagon and other events in Washington. The expert doubted Enan and the delegation would remain in the United States if the situation in Egypt continued to deteriorate.
“I think the truth of the matter is that this is developing very rapidly,” the expert said. “If it becomes politically an issue, he will go home.”
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by John O'Callaghan