In the highest-level American visit to Egypt since the new government took office, the secretary of state has urged political moderation and a stand on terrorism in the Middle East. Improved relations are being sought.
US Secretary of State John Kerry held what he called “candid” discussions with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Cairo on Sunday.
“We’re on the same page about what’s needed for Egypt,” Kerry said after the meeting. He added that he was “hopeful Egypt would get the full amount of aid and get on track.”
“Terrorists are the greatest threat to the Middle East,” Kerry said.
The US State Department said there were concerns about Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the threat which the conflict in Iraq posed to the Middle East. Earlier, Kerry held talks with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
“This is a critical moment of transition in Egypt (and) enormous challenges,” Kerry said. “There are issues of concern … but we know how to work at these.”
“The US is very interested in working closely” with the new government “in order to make this transition as rapidly and smoothly as possible,” Kerry said.
Egypt’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying the relationship between the US and Egypt should be based on “mutual respect and joint interests and with no interference in internal affairs.”
The US has had close relations with Egypt since 1979, when Cairo signed a peace treaty with American ally Israel. However, relations in recent months have been strained. After President Mohammed Morsi was ousted almost a year ago, the US froze some of its $1.3 billion (956 million euros) in annual military aid to Egypt.
About $575 million in suspended funds have been released over the past ten days and are to be used to pay existing defense contracts, according to the State Department. Washington has also said it is to provide ten Apache attack helicopters to help soldiers battling militants in the Sinai peninsula. Kerry said they would arrive “very soon.”
Kerrry’s visit came a day after an Egyptian court confirmed death sentences against 183 members of deposed President Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, including its leader Mohamed Badie, in a mass trial on charges related to violence in which one policeman was killed.
On Monday, a court in Cairo is due to issue a verdict in the trial of three journalists with the Al Jazeera television network held since December. Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty of aiding terrorists, doctoring footage and endangering Egypt’s national security. Their colleague, hunger-striker Abdullah Elshamy has been released.
jm/pfd (Reuters, AP)