Panetta to meet with Egypt's Morsi during upcoming trip

Panetta will sit down with Morsi and Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the country's ruling military council, during the visit, according to DOD Press Secretary George Little. 

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Panetta will also make a stop in Tunisia, where a popular uprising last year ended with the overthrow of that country's leadership and touched off a wave of protests in Egypt, Libya and now Syria that came to be known as the Arab Spring movement. 

"In both countries, we will consult with new leadership and reaffirm the support of the United States to continued reforms," Little said regarding Panetta's trips to Egypt and Tunisia. 

The Pentagon chief will also meet with diplomats in Israel and Jordan, who both "share our concerns about Syria and Iran," Little added. 

Panetta's visit comes weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Morsi shortly after he captured Egypt's presidency in the country's first free elections in decades. 

Aside from supporting the burgeoning democratic movements in the region, Panetta will also look to establish military cooperation ties with the new regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. 

Under former president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt had long been a supporter and ally of the United States' counterterrorism efforts in the Mideast and North Africa. 

But with Mubarak's ouster, Morsi's election and the rising tension between the country's military leaders and the new administration, Panetta will have to walk a fine diplomatic line during next week's visit. 

On the visit to Egypt, the secretary is very much looking forward to meeting with senior Egyptian officials and to encourage them to continue the political transition that's taking place. 

"I wouldn't want to get too far ahead of the discussion ... but I think it'll be a very positive visit," Little said. 

In June, Panetta reached out to Field Marshall Tantawi days after Egyptian military's temporary ruling council dissolved the country's parliament, casting doubt on the stability of Egypt's burgeoning democracy.

The military council was scheduled to fully hand over power to a civilian government last June. 

But with parliament's dissolution and the council's decision to limit Morsi's presidential powers and extend the group's authority until the election of a new parliament has thrown a wrench into Egypt's democratic transition. 

Panetta emphasized the only way that a security relationship can develop between the United States and Egypt is "to ensure a full and peaceful transition to democracy," according to the DOD statement released at the time.