US Secretary of State Kerry makes surprise stop in Egypt

22nd Jun 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Cairo for the first high-level US meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Kerry tacked his surprise visit onto a trip aimed at uniting Iraq’s leadership.

On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Egypt for the highest-level US meeting with new President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi since the former general took office on June 8. Officials from the United States hope Sissi will prove more moderate than Mohammed Morsi, the divisive Muslim Brotherhood-backed president the former general ousted in a military coup nearly a year ago.

US officials also announced Sunday that they had released $572 million (420 million euros) in aid to Egypt nearly two weeks ago, after Congress approved the funds. The sum represents the first installment of $1.5 billion in military aid frozen since October while the United States waited for Egypt to transition from its army-backed post-coup transitional government to one voted in democratically.

Kerry tacked Sunday’s surprise visit onto a trip  aimed at helping Iraq’s government repel jihadist fighters calling themselves the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), whose lightning offensive  took advantage of loose alliances and has displaced hundreds of thousands and put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki under intense pressure. The US secretary of state had flown out of Washington on Saturday, with a stated itinerary of Amman, Jordan, then Brussels and Paris. He is also expeced to visit Iraq, although the exact timing of any visit is still not yet known.

On Saturday, about 20,000 Shiites, many in combat gear,  marched through Baghdad with assault rifles and rocket launchers in rallies that were called for by the Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The show of force came after  the well-financed ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway group, captured a crossing near the Syrian border in the town of Qaim with the aid of allied Sunni rebels. Shiites held similar parades in the southern cities of Amarah and Basra.

The United States had favored Maliki when he became prime minister in 2006, with his promises to crack down on Shiite militias. In recent months, however, the prime minister has made increasingly sectarian moves, triggering calls from US leaders to be more inclusive of Sunnis, Kurds and Christians in Iraq’s political process. Many fear the fighting in Iraq and Syria could grow  into a broader regional conflict.

mkg/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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