CAIRO // Washington is committed to working with Egypt’s interim rulers, the US secretary of state John Kerry said yesterday as he paid his first visit to Cairo since the military removed former president Mohammed Morsi from office.
“We are committed to work with and we will continue our cooperation with the interim government,” Mr Kerry told a joint news conference with the Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy.
The US secretary of state was in Cairo to shore up ties with a key ally and ensure it moves ahead on plans to restore democracy, just weeks after Washington partly suspended aid to Egypt.
“The United States is a friend of the people of Egypt, of the country of Egypt, and we are a partner,” he said.
He also endorsed the military-installed interim government’s moves to restore full democracy in Egypt, with parliamentary elections to be held by mid-2014, followed by presidential polls.
“The roadmap is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Mr Kerry said.
“We support you in this tremendous transformation that Egypt is undergoing. We know it’s difficult. We want to help. We’re prepared to do so.”
Mr Kerry played down the United States’ suspension of part of its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Cairo, denying the decision had been taken to punish Egypt’s military leaders and saying it “is a very small issue between us”.
“US-Egyptian relations should not be defined by assistance,” Mr Kerry said, adding that direct aid would continue to help Egyptians in areas such as health and education and to aid “counterterrorism” efforts.
In a move that angered Cairo, Washington last month said it was “recalibrating” its aid to Egypt – including about $1.3 billion for military assistance – and suspending the delivery of big-ticket items like Apache helicopters and F-16 aircraft.
Mr Kerry, the most senior figure of the US administration to visit since Mr Morsi’s ouster on July 3, said he had candid discussions with Mr Fahmy, and later met president Adly Mansour and the military chief, Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
Mr Kerry and Gen El Sisi discussed bilateral relations and “working to reinforce and develop the strategic relations” between the two nations, Egypt’s official news agency Mena reported.
During his six-hour visit to the Egyptian capital, the first stop on an 11-day tour of the region, Mr Kerry also met a cross-section of civil society groups, including religious groups, human-rights advocates, and youth and labour organisations.
He said Washington believed “the US-Egypt partnership will be strongest when Egypt is represented by a democratically elected government”.
He condemned the violence since Mr Morsi’s ouster, but said nothing about the former president, who goes on trial today on charges of inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in Egypt as security forces engage in a sweeping crackdown against supporters of Mr Morsi, who have tried to stage near-daily protests against the Islamist president’s ouster.
Mr Fahmy, who has previously criticised the US aid suspension, offered a more upbeat assessment of US-Egyptian ties yesterday.
“I said a few days ago that Egyptian-American relations were tense, and I believe after my talks with the US secretary of state today that there are good indications that we seek to resume these relations in a positive manner,” Mr Fahmy said.
He also vowed that there would be a return to civilian government in his country.
The United States had for three decades supported Mr Morsi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a popular uprising in 2011.
Mr Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, was toppled by the military amid massive street protests against him.
His single turbulent year in power deeply polarised Egyptians, with critics accusing him of poor governance and of trying to centralise power in the hands of the Brotherhood, accusations denied by his supporters.
Mr Kerry flew to Saudi Arabia later yesterday, where he will try to soothe tensions over Washington’s refusal to intervene in Syria and its diplomatic overtures to Iran, and will also visit Israel, Bethlehem, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.
The timing of his Cairo visit was awkward, however, coming on the eve of Mr Morsi’s trial.
Washington has called for Morsi’s release and an end to politically motivated trials but has also stopped short of denouncing his ouster as a coup.
“Our hope is that we can make the progress we need, on democracy, the rights of people, the protections of people,” Mr Kerry said.
* Agence France-Presse