- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The State Department on Tuesday denied having played an inside role in the appointment of Egypt’s new defense minister, a former military intelligence chief who has long-standing ties to the U.S.

“It’s not our job to pick the leaders of a foreign government,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, acknowledging that Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is someone “we do know well, who we’ve worked with in the past and who has had training in the United States.”

In addition to having met with top Obama administration officials, Lt. Gen. el-Sissi participated in a basic training course at Fort Benning, Ga., during the early 1980s.

Mrs. Nuland refused to characterize his appointment as a positive sign from the administration of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which now holds power in Cairo.

“I’m not planning to characterize it one way or another,” she said. “We look forward and hope and expect that we will have good working relations. That is what we would like to have.”

Mr. Morsi appointed Gen. el-Sissi over the weekend after ordering the retirement of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, a powerful remnant from the government of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Despite intense public outcry calling for the military to allow civilian leaders to take control in Cairo, Field Marshal Tantawi had remained in charge of the Egyptian military since Mubarak was overthrown in popular uprising.

Crowds of Egyptians gathered again in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Sunday to celebrate the firing of Field Marshal Tantawi by Mr. Morsi, who also announced the retirement of several other senior military officers as well as the canceling of several constitutional amendments they had issued in an attempt to restrict civilian presidential powers.

It remains to be seen how the changes will affect the military’s posture toward the public and neighboring countries.

The dismissal of the top officers came just days after the Egyptian army declared a tentative victory against Islamic militants operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The militants were accused of killing 16 Egyptian soldiers during an ambush of anoutpost near the Israeli border. In an unprecedented offensive last week, Egyptian fighter jets pounded militant positions in the area.

On Monday, Mrs. Nuland told reporters at the State Department that there are “security issues in Sinai that have to be dealt with.”

“As the Egyptians work to gain control of Sinai, the way they do it obviously has an impact on their neighbors, has an impact on the region, has an impact on their existing security and treaty relationships, and we want to see all of those things go smoothly in the coming period for Egypt, but also for the region and for the neighbors,” she said.

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