US to retain close ties with Egypt’s military, Panetta to soon call Sisi

The US military expects to maintain close ties with Egypt's armed forces despite the dismissal of the country's powerful defense minister, a spokesperson said Monday.

"We had expected President [Mohamed] Morsy at some point to coordinate changes in the military leadership, to name a new team," Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters.

"The United States and the Department of Defense in particular look forward to continuing a very close relationship with the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces)," Little said.

Morsy on Sunday retired Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 76, and armed forces chief of staff Sami Anan. He also scrapped a constitutional document that gave the military legislative and other powers.

The Egyptian president replaced Tantawi, who had forged links with top American brass over decades, with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of military intelligence.

"The new defense minister is someone who's known to us, he comes from within the ranks of the SCAF and we believe we'll be able to continue the strong partnership that we have with Egypt," Little said.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "looks forward" to calling him "at the earliest possible moment," he added.

During a brief visit to Cairo on July 31, Panetta gave no indication he expected any change in Egypt's military leadership, but reaffirmed US support for a democratic transition, saying the country has helped ensure regional stability for more than 30 years.

The White House earlier Monday urged Egypt's military and government "to work closely together to address the economic and security challenges facing Egypt," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

The United States provides about US$1.3 billion annually in aid to Egypt, a key ally since the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord.

US officials are concerned that the new leadership in Egypt may alter its foreign policy, amid fears that Morsy — an Islamist and Egypt's first democratically-elected president — might seek to renegotiate the treaty.

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