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Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) welcomes U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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TEL AVIV (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Thursday he was optimistic about improving military ties with Egypt after talks in Cairo with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, following a period of strain under the Obama administration.

Earlier this month President Donald Trump moved to reset U.S. relations with Egypt, hosting Sisi for talks at the White House and giving him firm backing, including in the fight against Islamist militants.

"I left Cairo very confident, very confident in the avenues we have to advance our military-to-military relationship, which has been a bedrock and has stood solid all these years," Mattis told reporters in Tel Aviv, without elaborating.

A U.S. defence official said Mattis' meetings with Sisi and Egypt's defence minister had focused on building trust to allow for stronger military ties.

Trump's predecessor Barack Obama froze aid to Egypt for two years after Sisi, then a general, overthrew President Mohamed Mursi in mid-2013 after mass protests against Mursi's rule. Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, had been elected the previous year.

The Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to U.S. foreign aid, but has signalled that Egypt will continue to receive its $1.3 billion worth of annual military aid.

Mattis is the first cabinet level official to visit Egypt from the Trump administration.

A statement from Sisi's office said Egypt was keen "on further advancing bilateral relations under the new American administration".

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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