Kerry in Egypt on first leg of Middle East tour

Kerry’s trip, which ends Aug 8, will not include Israel, one of Washington’s closest allies and a fierce critic of the July 14 Iran nuclear deal.
Kerry’s trip, which ends Aug 8, will not include Israel, one of Washington’s closest allies and a fierce critic of the July 14 Iran nuclear deal.REUTERS

CAIRO (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Egypt on Saturday to relaunch a strategic partnership with Washington’s longtime ally, at the start of a regional mini-tour, a correspondent said.

He is also due in Qatar on Monday to meet his Arab counterparts in the Gulf to try to ease their concerns over the Iran nuclear deal.

Kerry’s trip, which ends on Aug 8, will not include Israel, one of Washington’s closest allies and a fierce critic of the July 14 deal between the Islamic republic and world powers.

During his stop in Cairo, Kerry will meet his counterpart Sameh Shoukri for a “strategic dialogue” between the allies, which have had a tumultuous relationship since Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

In late March, the United States lifted its freeze on annual military aid of US$1.3 billion (S$1.7 billion) to Cairo.

But Washington kept up public condemnation of the brutal repression by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime of supporters of his ousted Islamist predecessor, Mohamed Morsi.

The “dialogue” between the two officials is the first since 2009, and comes in the wake of an announcement this week that Washington began the delivery of eight F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.

In addition to military cooperation, Kerry and Shukri are to discuss Washington’s human rights “concerns”.

“We’ll certainly be discussing the issue of the political environment, human rights issues while the Secretary is in Cairo. That is an important part of our regular dialogue,” a US State Department official said.

Kerry will travel on to Doha to meet his counterparts from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states.

The main purpose of that meeting will be to allay fears the Arab monarchies of the Gulf have about Shi'ite Iran, following the nuclear deal signed in Vienna.

“This is an opportunity, really, for the secretary to do a deep dive with the GCC foreign ministers to try to respond to any remaining questions that they might have and hopefully to satisfy them and ensure that they’re supporting our effort going forward,” the State Department official said.

Many Gulf states have said they are concerned about Iran’s ambitions in the region following the pact with the US and five other world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

An official in Washington said Kerry and GCC foreign ministers will also discuss the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

On the sidelines of the GCC meetings, Kerry is set to meet Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov on a number of issues, including the crisis in Syria, the State Department said.

After Doha, Kerry will leave for south-east Asia, where he will visit Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.