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UPDATE 2: Kerry urges Egypt to uphold freedoms, promises Apache dispatch

US Secretary of State John Kerry says that issue of withheld American aid to Egypt's military will be 'resolved' very soon

Ahram Online and AFP, Sunday 22 Jun 2014
Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri address the media before a meeting at a hotel in Cairo June 22, 2014. (Photo:Reuters)
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US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Egypt to safeguard freedoms and assure due process of law, while also promising that some withheld aid to Egypt's military, namely Apache helicopters, will be released shortly.

"I emphasised our strong support for upholding the universal rights and freedoms of all Egyptians including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association," Kerry said at a joint press conference in Cairo on Sunday with his Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

"We also discussed the essential role of a vibrant civil society, free press, rule of law and due process in a democracy," he said referring to his talks with Egyptian leaders including President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

Kerry's statements come on the eve of an anticipated verdict for several Al-Jazeera journalists being tried in Egypt on charges of spreading false news during the tumultuous events that took place after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year.

His statements also follow Saturday's confirmation of death sentences for 183 Islamists including Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamd Badie.

Kerry, however, said his country's relationship with Egypt is strategic and that US gunship deliveries to Egypt held since Morsi's ouster will be released.

"The Apaches will come, and they'll come very very soon," Kerry said in response to a reporter's question on whether the halt of deliveries expressed US antagonism to Egyptian authorities.

Kerry also assured that the US is not dictating its agenda to Egypt via withholding aid. He said part of the aid being held has been released by the House of Representatives and is now being discussed in the Senate.

The issue will be resolved, he assured.

The US quietly sent around $572 million in aid to Egypt some 10 days ago after Congress finally approved its release, US officials said on Sunday.

The funds are the first tranche of some $1.5 billion in mostly military aid which has been frozen since October amid US administration demands that the Egyptian government introduce democratic reforms.

Kerry arrived in Egypt Sunday morning on his first official visit since the election of the country's new President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. On Thursday, he said he would be travelling to Europe and the Middle East this week, primarily to address the recent crisis in Iraq, where an Islamic militant group has taken over several key cities.

In Cairo, Kerry met with El-Sisi and Shoukry, who became Egypt's foreign minister with the formation of a new cabinet last week.

Egypt says meeting constructive

Egypt's presidential spokesperson Ihab Badawy described El-Sisi's meeting with Kerry as positive and constructive, saying the US is interested in Egypt's success and its important role in achieving peace and stability in the Middle East.

Badawy said El-Sisi stressed his commitment to live up to the hopes of the Egyptian people and said the coming parliament will be an important step in achieving this as it will lay down the laws enshrined in Egypt's 2014 constitution, especially those concerning rights and freedoms, he said.

Badawy also pointed out El-Sisi's mentioning that Egyptians respect their judiciary and trust its fairness and do not interfere with it.

He added that El-Sisi and Kerry both emphasised the importance of assistance between the US, Egypt and other countries in the region in facing terrorism, manifested most recently in the developments in Iraq, where the militant group ISIL – the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – and its allies have seized major cities.

"ISIL ... its ideology of violence and repression is a threat not only to Iraq but the entire region," Kerry said at the joint news conference, addressing the Iraqi issue separately by answering a question from a CBS reporter.

Badawy said El-Sisi mentioned in his meeting with Kerry the necessity to confront extremist thought also present outside the region, citing the presence of foreign fighters among the ranks of ISIL.

US-Egyptian relations have wavered since Morsi's ouster, with American officials criticising Egypt's interim authorities for maintaining a general crackdown on dissent that has since broadened to include secular activists, as well as supporters of the Islamist president, thousands of whom are currently in jail.

Washington said in April it would resume part of its annual aid to Cairo, including the delivery of 10 Apache attack helicopters that the Egyptian army says it badly needs for counterterrorism operations in the Sinai Peninsula.

The US sent a low-profile delegation to attend El-Sisi's swearing-in ceremony on 8 June, and Obama telephoned El-Sisi two days later to congratulate him on his election.

Kerry last visited Egypt on 3 November.

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