Kerry to travel to Egypt and the Gulf for talks on Iran deal

US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Egypt followed by trip to Qatar

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to co-chair the US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo on August 2, postponed from July 28-29, due to changes in Kerry’s agenda.

The US Department of State issued a statement on Monday saying “The bilateral dialogue reaffirms the United States’ longstanding and enduring partnership with Egypt” and that a broad range of “political, economic, security, and cultural issues” would be discussed.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry told reporters on Sunday that “the strategic dialogue between Egypt and the United States represents an opportunity to consolidate the bilateral relations and reflects the strength and importance of the continuing partnership between the two countries,” The Cairo Post reported.

It is expected that the two men will hold talks regarding the recent nuclear deal with Iran as well as the fight against ISIS militants.

The United States provides $1.3 billion in military aid and about $250 million in economic aid to Egypt every year. The United States partially suspended this aid in 2013 following the coup that ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. This has caused the relations between the two countries to sour.

In an article for the Center for American Progress, Brian Katulis and Mokhtar Awad pointed out that Egypt needs external assistance, and has “received more financial support from Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, countries in the past year than it received from the United States over the past decade - at least $20 billion from Gulf partners in the past year-and-a-half compared with the less than $1.5 billion per year from the United States, or nearly $15 billion in the past decade.”

Katulis and Awad also mentioned that former general, now Egyptian president al-Sisi has “traveled to parts of Africa and to Europe, Russia and China during his first seven months in office in an effort to boost support and strengthen ties.”

In 2014, the BBC reported that the United States had released $575 million in military aid to Egypt that had been frozen, and in June 2015, the New York Times revealed a May document in which the US Department of State justifies the military aid it provides to Egypt which it deems too important to national security despite Egypt’s transgressions of human rights and democratic practices.

In order to secure the national security waiver, Kerry had to sign a certification that was submitted to congress accompanied by a justification which criticised Egypt while acknowledging some positive aspects in the country’s rule.

The memorandum of justification prepared by the US Department of State notes that “While Egypt has implemented parts of its ‘democracy roadmap,’ the overall trajectory of rights and democracy has been negative,” and points out that “A series of executive initiatives, new laws and judicial actions severely restrict freedom of expression and the press, freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and due process, and they undermine prospects for democratic governance.”

The memo defines the common interests between the United States and Egypt as “continued Egyptian adherence to its peace treaty with Israel, counterterrorism and counterproliferation cooperation, support for US military operations and international peacekeeping, and the security of the Suez Canal” and says it is in the United States’ national security interest to provide financial assistance to Egypt, despite commenting later in the document that “Government forces have committed arbitrary or otherwise unlawful killings during dispersal of demonstrators, of persons in custody, and during military operations in the northern Sinai Peninsula.”

Speaking to the New York Times, Mohamed Lotfy of the Egyptian Commission of Rights and Freedoms, a human rights advocate, said “Sisi is creating a new generation of terrorists, and exporting them to Syria and Iraq,” while the United States has damaged its credibility in the Middle East by “contradicting its values - or at least the values that it tries to export in speeches.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers consisting of 2016 presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) sent a letter to Kerry on Monday, expressing their concern with current developments in Egypt.

“We are troubled by recent developments in Egypt that suggest the country is not on a path to long-term sustainable security or political inclusion,” the senators wrote. “We are also concerned that recent US policy and assistance decisions have been interpreted by the Egyptian government as an endorsement of the current political climate,” the letter stated.

The senators backed the Obama administration’s decision to lift holds on delivering military equipment to Egypt in addition to providing security and economic assistance, but were worried that the US support would not be met with a commitment on Egypt’s part “to implementing a reform agenda.”

They wrote “A key element of US foreign policy has always been and must continue to be support for human rights, political reform, and civil society,” adding that “In the US-Egypt relationship, we are concerned that these core principles seem to be no longer a priority.”

After his stop in Egypt, Kerry will travel to Doha, Qatar on Aug. 3 to meet with foreign ministers of the GCC - composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman -.

In Doha, Kerry will also meet the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

TRTWorld and agencies