United States, Egypt begin first strategic dialogue since 2009
The United States and Egypt took a step towards repairing the cracks in their relationship on Sunday when they launched their first strategic dialogue since 2009 on a wide range of topics including human rights and an Islamist insurgency in Egypt.
Despite Washington’s concerns about Egypt’s lagging democratic reforms, Cairo remains one of its closest security allies in the Middle East, an increasingly crucial role amid unprecedented turmoil in the region.
U.S. officials say the talks, led by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will address the “political environment” and human rights in Egypt, as well as Cairo’s battle against Islamist militants based in the Sinai peninsula.
The insurgents have stepped up attacks in the past two years, killing hundreds of soldiers and police. The United States has stepped up its military assistance to Egypt. In addition, Islamist militants have gained a foothold in a war in neighbouring Libya, and conflicts continue in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
“The launching of the strategic dialogue today is a serious chance for the two sides to review the different parts of the Egyptian-American relationship, politically, militarily and economically and assessing this relationship in all respects,” Shukri said in his opening remarks, which Kerry attended.
Relations between the two sides cooled considerably after the Egyptian military overthrew the Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
While Washington has prized the former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led Mursi’s overthrow and was later elected to succeed him, for the stability he has brought to Egypt, it has also cautiously criticised Egypt’s human rights record and a crackdown on Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, a now outlawed group.
U.S. officials say they want to see Egypt regain its economic growth and its political situation stabilise.
On Thursday, Kerry met in Washington with Egyptian-American citizen Mohammed Soltan, who was jailed for life after a court said he had supported the Brotherhood, an accusation he and his family deny. He was eventually freed this year after repeated efforts by the U.S. government.
The State Department said Kerry had during his meeting with Soltan stressed “the importance of distinguishing between peaceful dissent and violent extremism in the fight against terrorism”.
In late March, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted a hold on a supply of arms to Cairo, authorising deliveries of U.S. weapons valued at over $1.3 billion.
The United States delivered eight F-16 Block 52 aircraft to Egypt last week.
The countries last held wide-ranging strategic talks in Dec. 2009.