Kerry Begins Middle East Visit in Egypt

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Cairo before heading to Qatar to discuss nuclear deal. Israel not on the itinerary.

Elad Benari ,

John Kerry
John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday arrived in Cairo for security talks with Egyptian officials before heading to Qatar to try to ease Arab concerns about the Iran nuclear deal, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

While in Cairo, Kerry will resume a U.S.-Egypt strategic dialogue that was suspended in 2009 due to political unrest.

Despite continuing human rights concerns, the Obama administration is increasing military assistance to Egypt as it confronts growing threats from extremists, particularly on the Sinai peninsula.

On Friday, noted AP, the U.S. delivered eight F-16 warplanes to Egypt, part of a military support package.

Sinai-based terrorists have been launching attacks in recent months that have killed dozens of Egyptian soldiers and police. The latest wave of violence began after the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi two years ago.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama released military aid to Egypt that was suspended after the 2013 overthrow of the government.

American law forbids sending aid to countries where a democratic government was deposed by a military coup, though Washington has never qualified Morsi’s ouster as a "coup" and had been cautious about doing so, choosing only to condemn the violence in the country.

Current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi recently appealed to the United States to play a greater role in helping his country fight terrorism, telling Fox News that while the U.S. has helped Egypt for decades, Egypt needs that help "more than ever," and wants to see a "big response from capable countries."

Some lawmakers and numerous advocacy groups are urging Kerry to raise human rights issues with Egyptian authorities, including the arrests of dissidents and journalists, mass trials, and sentencing of Morsi supporters, according to AP.

U.S. officials said those concerns would be raised at all of Kerry's meetings in Cairo and noted that the State Department's top diplomat for human rights and democracy would be accompanying him.

From Cairo, Kerry will travel on Sunday to Doha, Qatar, for talks with Gulf Arab foreign ministers whose countries are wary of the nuclear deal with Iran.

Officials say the Doha discussions are primarily designed to follow-up on a May meeting that Obama hosted for Arab leaders at Camp David, at which the U.S. promised enhanced security cooperation and expedited defense sales to guard against a potential Iranian threat.

Kerry is skipping Israel during the trip to the Middle East, though his spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week that “it wasn’t a deliberate decision not to go [to Israel]”.

Kirby added that Kerry “has been in touch with Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu many, many times over the last several weeks in terms of discussing the deal and the parameters of it. So it’s not as if we aren’t in constant communication with Israeli counterparts about this.”

The last call Kerry and Netanyahu held was on July 16, Kirby said in response to a question from a reporter.