In Cairo, Pence praises the friendship and partnership between the U.S. and Egypt

CAIRO — On Saturday, the first day of the federal government shutdown, Vice President Pence arrived here in the late afternoon to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, whom he praised and repeatedly called a “friend” of the United States.

The leaders spent roughly four hours together and delivered brief statements before a small group of reporters who are traveling with Pence — a nearly nine-minute event that only happened after intense negotiation between Pence’s staff and Egyptian authorities, who wanted to limit access to one television camera with limited sound and, at one point, physically barred reporters from leaving a bus.

Sitting in gold-gilded chairs in front of an intricate tapestry showing a map of Egypt, Sissi said through an interpreter that Pence is a “dear guest” and that his visit “speaks volumes” about Egypt’s relationship with the Trump administration. Pence said that the two countries had been “drifting apart” until Trump took office but that their “ties have never been stronger,” especially as they work together to fight terrorism in the region. He added that he chose to visit Egypt first on his four-day, three-country Middle East tour because of the importance of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship.

Pence denounced a terrorist attack on an Egyptian mosque in November that killed more than 300, along with recent attacks on Coptic Christians.

The public comments were warm and friendly with no mention of the disagreements between the two countries, such as President Trump’s decision late last year to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that Egypt has imprisoned several American citizens, often on questionable charges. As Pence prepared to leave on Saturday night, he told reporters that both of these issues came up in private conversations.

Pence arrived at the presidential palace late Saturday afternoon, along with a bus carrying the 12 reporters who are traveling with him in the Middle East this week. A CNN journalist with a video camera left the bus, but then an Egyptian official planted himself in front of the door and would not allow anyone else to leave. One of Pence’s staff members firmly told the man that he needed to let everyone out, but he refused to move, forcing her to shout out the windows to others who might be able to help.