Kerry sets off on Mideast trip to Egypt, Doha

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State John Kerry departed late Friday to Egypt for cooperation talks and to Qatar, where he hopes to ease Gulf countries’ concerns about the Iran nuclear deal.

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The trip, which ends August 8, will not include a stop in Israel, one of Washington’s closest allies and a fierce critic of the newly hatched Iran nuclear agreement.

During his stop in Egypt Sunday, Kerry will meet with his counterpart Sameh Shoukri for a “strategic dialogue” between the long-time allies, which have had a tumultuous relationship in recent years, following political unrest in the northern African nation.

In late March, the United States lifted its freeze on annual military aid of $1.3 billion to Cairo.

But Washington kept up public condemnation of the brutal repression by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime of supporters of his ousted predecessor, Mohamed Morsi.

The “dialogue” between the two officials is the first since 2009, and comes in the wake of an announcement this week that Washington began the delivery eight F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.

In addition to military cooperation, Kerry and Shukri will discuss Washington’s human rights “concerns.”

“We’ll certainly be discussing the issue of the political environment, human rights issues while the Secretary is in Cairo. That is an important part of our regular dialogue,” a US State Department official said.

Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski, will be joining Kerry, according to the official, who said he “will have an opportunity to discuss with his counterparts some of the issues that we have, some of the concerns that we have about the situation.”

Kerry will travel to Doha Monday to meet with his counterparts from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states.

The main purpose of that meeting will be to allay fears they have about Iran, following the nuclear deal signed on July 14 in Vienna.

Many Gulf countries have said they are concerned about Iran’s ambitions in the region following the pact with the US and five other world powers—Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

“This is an opportunity, really, for the Secretary to do a deep dive with the GCC foreign ministers to try to respond to any remaining questions that they might have and hopefully to satisfy them and ensure that they’re supporting our effort going forward,” the official said.

He added that the crises in Yemen and Syria will also be discussed.

No Israel stop
On the sidelines of the GCC meetings, Kerry is set to meet with Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov on a number of issues, including the crisis in Syria, the State Department said.

Israel, however, is not on Kerry’s itinerary. Kerry has not been to the country in several months, as relations have soured over the Iran deal.

But the State department said Washington had extensive discussions with Israel in recent months, including about the Iran deal, shaking off speculation about declining relations.

“There’s no question that we have a very deep and broad discussion with the Israelis, including on this issue,” the official said, referring to to the nuclear accord.

After Doha, Kerry will set off for southeast Asia, where he will visit Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is meeting in Kuala Lumpur this year, is a close partner of the United States—a key partner for the group in the face of regional ambitions from neighboring powerhouse China.

AFP

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