Kerry says United States, Egypt return to ‘stronger base’ in relationship
CAIRO – Reuters
AP photoThe United States and Egypt are returning to a “stronger base” in their relationship despite tensions and concerns over human rights, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Aug. 2 at the first strategic dialogue between the two sides since 2009.
U.S.-Egyptian relations cooled considerably after Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was ousted in 2013 by the military amid mass protests against his rule.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told a joint news conference with Kerry in Cairo that his country had no major disagreements with the United States but that there were “differences in points of view over some issues, which is natural.”
Despite U.S. concerns about Egypt’s lagging democratic reforms, Cairo remains one of its closest security allies in the Middle East, an increasingly crucial role in a region beset by turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
Kerry said the talks had tackled increased cooperation on border security with neighboring Libya. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants have exploited a power vacuum in Libya to gain a foothold there, creating worries of a potential spillover of violence. Earlier this year, ISIL militants in Libya beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians, prompting Egyptian air strikes on militant targets.
Kerry also said he and Shukri had agreed on the importance of ensuring “free, fair and transparent” parliamentary elections due by the end of the year after long delays.
While Washington has prized former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led Mursi’s overthrow and was elected to succeed him, for the stability he has brought to Egypt, it has also cautiously criticized Egypt’s human rights record and a crackdown on Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The Egyptian government says the Brotherhood is a threat to national security and denies all allegations of abuse, but its crackdown has extended to liberal activists and journalists.
A Cairo court on Aug. 2 postponed giving its verdict in the retrial of Al Jazeera television journalists accused of aiding a terrorist organization, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Shukri said no journalists in Egypt were in jail over their reporting. A prison census conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists on June 1 which found at least 18 Egyptian journalists were being held in jail for reasons related to their reporting.
A government source at the time said that the numbers were not accurate.
Cairo and Washington said they had also agreed to explore opportunities to expand a security relationship.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted a hold on a supply of arms to Cairo, authorizing deliveries of U.S. weapons valued at over $1.3 billion.
The United States delivered eight F-16 Block 52 aircraft to Egypt last week. Egypt has been fighting an insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of soldiers and police since Mursi’s removal. The most active group is Sinai Province, an affiliate of ISIL.
Kerry also said a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran agreed last month would make the region safer.
“There can be absolutely no question that the Vienna plan, if implemented, will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be,” Kerry said.