CAIRO, March 24 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates assured Egypt’s military ruler of sustained American aid on Thursday, as Cairo warned that tourism revenue is nosediving in the wake of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Gates, on his first visit to Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, also discussed Libya with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the ruling military council.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Tantawi did not raise concerns about coalition operations in Libya but did voice worries about about violence by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
On aid for Egypt, Morrell said: “The secretary noted of course that there are serious economic pressures in our own country. But (he said) the manner in which the Field Marshal and his military have handled this period in Egyptian history has put them in good stead back at home in America, particularly in the United States Congress.”
Gates said he “thought there was support for sustaining military support to Egypt as well as other forms of aid -- economic aid,” Morrell added, citing figures from Egyptian officials that indicated revenues from tourism, a main earner, were down 75 percent.
“They are hurting economically and very much need us and others to continue to do what we can to assist them,” Morrell said. “This is a sensitive and concerning situation for them.”
Aid from the United States to Egypt has been running at about $1.5 billion a year, most of that military aid.
As Gates left his meeting with Tantawi, he said: “Anything we can do, don’t hesitate to call me.”
The two have spoken more than a half dozen times by telephone since the crisis erupted. (Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Edmund Blair)