“You have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me,” Trump said as he and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi kicked off expansive talks at the White House.

Relations between the U.S. and Egypt were tepid at best under the former administration of Barack Obama, which admonished Cairo for its rights abuses following the military overthrow of Mohammed Morsi.

The U.S. suspended military aid to Egypt in 2013 before resuming it two years later, but Obama never extended an invitation to the Egyptian president after he assumed office in 2014 amid continued rights concerns. 

Sisi is reportedly seeking a boost in arms sales and economic assistance on his first official visit to Washington as his government battles Daesh-linked militants in the restive Sinai Peninsula. 

Last week, 10 security personnel were killed in northern Sinai, which has been boiling up since Morsi, Egypt’s first freely-elected president, was ousted in a military coup.

“I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President al-Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation," Trump said, making no mention of human rights or aid. 

"I look forward to a very long and strong relationship,” the American president added. 

Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign military financing, receiving some $1.3 billion per year, in addition to millions in separate economic assistance. 

The White House called the meeting a "candid dialogue" in which the leaders discussed "areas of cooperation and of concern", but declined to say whether human rights were discussed.

Spokesman Sean Spicer maintained that the best way to address the matter is behind closed doors -- breaking with Trump's campaign rhetoric that has singled out Obama for not more publicly making the case for rights improvements in the Muslim world.

Trump and Sisi held an expanded bilateral meeting before heading into a working lunch that had been scheduled for over an hour. 

Outside the White House dueling groups of pro- and anti-Sisi protesters held demonstrations on opposite ends of Lafayette Park as the leaders met. The larger pro-Sisi gathering attracted roughly 100 people who lauded Sisi and Trump.

Anadolu Agency