CAIRO - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday he was ‘confident’ Egypt will receive Apache helicopter gunships soon, as he made a surprise visit to Cairo.
Kerry became the highest-ranking American official to visit Egypt since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power after overwhelmingly winning an election in May. ‘The Apaches will come and they will come very, very soon,’ Kerry said at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.
‘Those Apaches are focussed on the strong issues of terrorism. ‘They will be used in a place where Egypt has been working very, very hard in concert with Israel and with us in order to push back against these terrorists.’ US officials have revealed that $572 million (420 million euros) of US aid, which had been frozen since October, was released to the Cairo government about 10 days ago after finally winning a green light from Congress.
The funds will mainly go to pay existing defence contracts. US officials announced in April they planned to resume some of the annual $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Cairo, including 10 Apaches for counterterrorism efforts in the Sinai Peninsula. But the helicopters remain in storage in the United States, an official confirmed Sunday. ‘Obviously this is a critical moment of transition in Egypt, enormous challenges,’ Kerry said in Cairo as he met new Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.
But he vowed that ‘the US is very interested in working closely’ with the new government ‘in order to make this transition as rapidly and smoothly as possible’. Since Egypt's first freely elected leader Morsi was toppled by Sisi in July 2013, a government crackdown on his supporters has left more than 1,400 people dead in street clashes and at least 15,000 jailed.
An US official told journalists travelling on the plane with Kerry that ‘the Egyptian government needs to have a very politically inclusive approach, which means that they need to include and find ways to reach out to the Muslim Brothers’. Kerry's visit comes a day after an Egyptian court confirmed death sentences for 183 Islamists, including Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie, after a speedy mass trial that sparked an international outcry. US officials also revealed that $572 million (420 million euros) in aid, which had been frozen since October, was released to Egypt about 10 days ago after a green light from Congress. It will mainly go to pay existing defence contracts.
US officials said in April they planned to resume some of the annual $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Cairo, including 10 Apache helicopter gunships for counterterrorism efforts in the Sinai Peninsula. ‘The Apaches will come and they will come very, very soon,’ Kerry said minutes before he ended his trip. Before flying to Amman, Kerry called on ‘Iraq's leaders to rise above sectarian considerations and speak to all people,’ and insisted that Washington is not responsible for the current crisis roiling that country. Egypt, one of only two Arab nations to have a peace treaty with Israel, has long been seen as a key strategic ally and a cornerstone to regional stability.
But the political turmoil since Mubarak's ouster has paralysed the nation, leaving it more concerned with domestic problems than regional matters despite the upheavals of the Arab Spring. ‘There's a strong desire on the part of the United States for this transition (in Egypt) to succeed,’ a senior State Department official said. ‘We have a longstanding relationship that's built on several different pillars. It's at a difficult juncture right now, that's true, and we have serious concerns about the political environment,’ he added.
Washington's concerns about Cairo include a new law controlling demonstrations, ‘the lack of space for dissent, mass trials and death sentences,’ said the official.
‘We are concerned that some of the tactics they're using to address their security issues are polarising they in some ways radicalise certain aspects of Egyptian society in ways that are not supportive of overall stability.’