US secretary of state John Kerry held talks yesterday with president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo over concerns about Egypt's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the threat that the conflict in Iraq poses to the Middle East.
Mr Kerry is the highest-ranking US official to visit Egypt since Mr Sisi, the former military leader who toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi after mass protests last year, won a presidential election in May.
His visit comes a day after an Egyptian court confirmed death sentences against 183 members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, including its leader Mohamed Badie, in a mass trial.
The Obama administration has said it looks forward to working with Mr Sisi’s government but expressed concerns over widespread human rights abuses and limits on freedom of expression.
"This is a critical moment of transition in Egypt [and] enormous challenges," said Mr Kerry before an earlier meeting with Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shukri. "There are issues of concern . . . but we know how to work at these."
Mr Shukri told his US counterpart that the relationship between the US and Egypt should be based on "mutual respect . . . with no interference in internal affairs", according to the foreign ministry.
A senior US state department official said Washington was worried about the use of heavy-handed political and security tactics by Egypt's authorities, which he said was polarising Egyptian society.
The official said there had been “a few flickering signs of positive movement” in recent weeks. Among these was the release of an Al Jazeera journalist, steps to address sexual violence against women and Mr Sisi’s call for the revision of the human rights law.
The US froze some of its $1.3 billion (€960 million) in annual military aid to Egypt following Mr Morsi’s overthrow. About $575 million in suspended funds have been released over the past 10 days and will be used to pay existing defence contracts, said the state department official.
Washington has also said it will provide 10 Apache attack helicopters to help soldiers battling militants in the Sinai peninsula. – (Reuters)