CAIRO -- Despite human rights concerns, the United States yesterday resumed formal security talks with Egypt that were last held six years ago and kept on hiatus until now amid the political unrest that swept the country in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Two days after the United States delivered eight F-16 warplanes to Egypt as part of a military support package that the Obama administration is boosting to help Egypt counter an increasing terrorist threat, Secretary of State John Kerry restarted the so-called "strategic dialogue" with Egyptian officials in Cairo. The dialogue was last held in 2009 and was shelved due to the Arab Spring and turmoil following the ouster of Egypt's authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Kerry said the administration is committed to working with Egypt to enhance its military capabilities as it confronts growing threats from extremists, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. That aid had been on hold until earlier this year due to human rights and democracy concerns in the wake of the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
Before meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Kerry told Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry the United States would "continue to provide robust training to the Egyptian military, as the military seeks it and desires it, in an effort to build capacity, and also to meet the highest expectations of your military for its professionalism."
Kerry noted the United States had provided Egypt with Apache helicopters, attack boats, armored vehicles and other weapons systems this year.
He also acknowledged stress in the U.S.-Egypt relationship over human rights and said Washington would continue to press Cairo on the arrests of dissidents and journalists and mass trials.
"Obviously, there has been a little bit of tension over certain issues," he told reporters at a joint news conference with Shoukry that was held shortly after a court in Cairo again postponed a verdict in the trial of three Al-Jazeera English journalists, whose arrests on have sparked widespread condemnation.
Shoukry said no journalists have been detained in Egypt for doing their jobs, only for terrorism and other offenses, and he rejected criticism that detainees were being denied due process. He said Egypt is committed to improving its human rights conditions but noted that all countries, even mature democracies, have imperfect rights records.
Kerry made the case, though, that freedom of speech, assembly and peaceful political dissent must be allowed if Egypt is to successfully combat extremism, especially ahead of parliamentary elections to be held later this year.