US Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday to press the former military leader to adopt greater democratic reforms.
Fresh from a day-long donors conference in Cairo which raised some $5.4 billion (4.3 billion euros) in pledges to help the Palestinians and the Gaza Strip, Kerry was to fly later to Paris for further talks on the battle against Islamic militants and on Ukraine.
Washington has suspended part of its $1.3 billion in annual aid to Cairo since late last year, until the Egyptian leadership allays fears that it is veering off the path to democracy.
Kerry said in past visits to Cairo that he had had “candid conversations with President Sisi about the challenges that both of our countries face”.
Egypt still had to “prove to the world that the country is stable and open to business” as it seeks to restore its economy after years of political upheaval since the ousting of former strongarm leader Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.
Kerry told reporters on Sunday that US-Egypt ties remained strong as the “government undertakes significant reforms and works towards economic transformation for all Egyptians”.
The top US diplomat revealed that US energy giant General Electric might be able to help Egypt improve its power grid.
“We believe there are ways for us to be able to work together,” Kerry insisted.
But there are lingering concerns about a crackdown on political dissent in Egypt, amid trials of journalists and the mass sentencings of opposition members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sisi, as the former military leader, ousted democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, and police have since cracked down on the deposed Islamist’s supporters, killing hundreds in clashes and arresting thousands.
And Washington has found itself walking a delicate tightrope in its ties with Cairo, keen to ensure that democracy is nurtured while maintaining relations with a key regional and military ally.
– Lavrov meeting –
After his talks with Sisi, Kerry will fly to Paris where he will meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
On Tuesday, he is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, seeking to resolve yet another conflict — the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Western countries are trying to shore up a September 5 ceasefire deal in Ukraine which has been routinely breached in the country’s east by pro-Russian separatist groups.
The complex civil war in Syria, as well as US efforts to raise a coalition to fight the Islamic State group, will also dominate the two veteran diplomats’ talks in the French capital.
“We very much expect that these talks will turn out to be constructive,” Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said last week.
Kerry will then travel to Vienna to meet officials from another US adversary, Iran, as he seeks to hammer out a deal on reining in Tehran’s nuclear programme by a November 24 deadline.