Kerry Says Improved Egypt Ties Depend on Democracy Moves

Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Egypt today to press its military chief and other officials to fulfill their promise to hold elections next year.

Kerry’s six-hour stopover in the Egyptian capital was the highest-level American visit since the army removed the elected, Muslim-Brotherhood-backed government in July. U.S. President Barack Obama responded to the military action by suspending about $1.3 billion in military aid.

What happens in Egypt is “profoundly important” for the region, and the U.S. is eager to support the interim government’s promised transition to democracy, Kerry said in Cairo. As long as Egyptian authorities move in that direction, “I have no doubt about our ability to improve this relationship,” he said.

The U.S. supports the aspirations of the Egyptian people as authorities grapple with rewriting the constitution and planning elections, Kerry said at a news conference with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

“They have made this promise that they intend to continue to move down that road,” Kerry said. “That is the foundation for the continued cooperation between our countries.”

Kerry said the aid issue was discussed briefly during his meeting with Fahmy, and that the two agreed that their nations’ relationship “should not be defined by assistance” because there are “much bigger issues” to address.

Aid Suspended

Egypt is seeking to to revive an economy that’s been stuck in the worst slowdown in two decades since the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The turmoil that’s persisted since has made it difficult for consecutive governments to lure back tourists and investors.

“If the people of Egypt don’t begin to see the economy take hold and improve, it will be hard for any government to provide the kinds of improvements that people are looking for in the quality of their lives,” Kerry said. “The government fully understands that.”

The Egypt stop, a late addition to Kerry’s week-long visit to the Mideast and North Africa, comes at a politically charged moment. The deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi is due to go on trial tomorrow on charges he incited to murder and violence during December protests between his supporters and opponents, an event that may spark further clashes.

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