John Kerry
John KerryAFP file

The freezing of aid to Egypt by the United States is not meant as a “punishment” by Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Cairo Sunday.

At a joint press conference with Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, Kerry said that the two countries enjoyed good relations regardless of issues of monetary assistance.

The United States last month cut off military aid to Egypt, in the wake of the new government's deposing of former President Mohammed Morsi, and the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Kerry's visit this week is the first by an American official to Cairo since the deposing of Morsi. The U.S. provides $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt.

American officials were quoted as saying that the United States will withhold delivery of certain large-scale military systems, as well as cash assistance to the Egyptian government, until "credible progress" is made toward an inclusive government set up through free and fair elections.

Speaking Sunday, Kerry said that he realized that Egypt faced “difficult challenges,” but urged Cairo to continue its “march to democracy.” He told officials that peace was important for everyone, in the region and in the country, and urged Egyptians to “think about what benefits peace would bring everyone.”

Kerry's visit to Egypt was not announced in advance, apparently to stem the possibility of major protests the White House expected would evolve over the aid cutoff.

Kerry's visit came exactly one day before Morsi and 14 of his top Muslim Brotherhood aides went on trial for incitement to violence. The trial comes after major protests by Muslim Brotherhood members against the new government, headed by military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.