CAIRO — Secretary of State John Kerry told the Egyptian authorities on Sunday that they would not be able to defeat terrorism at home unless they showed greater respect for human rights.
“The success of our fight against terrorism depends on building trust between the authorities and the public,” Mr. Kerry said at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart. “If that possibility does not exist, then regrettably more misguided people will be driven to violence and there will be more attacks.”
But with the United States worried about militants in Sinai and Libya who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, American officials also signaled that they would not let their concerns with human rights stand in the way of increased security cooperation with Egypt.
Mr. Kerry said the United States was moving toward resuming “Bright Star,” the joint military exercise President Obama suspended in August 2013 after Egypt’s generals cracked down on supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the president they ousted from power.
And he said the two sides also discussed other ways the United States could step up its cooperation with Egypt’s military, including expanding training efforts and helping the Egyptians better police their border with Libya.
When Mr. Kerry arrived here on Saturday, the United States Embassy announced in a Twitter message the arrival of eight American-made F-16s for Egypt’s Air Force and provided a link to a video of the planes flying in formation over Cairo.
“Long Live Egypt,” the embassy posting said, in Arabic, repeating a phrase that is known here primarily as the slogan from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s presidential campaign.
“We are deeply concerned about the developments in Sinai,” said a senior State Department official who asked not to be named under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters. “We are worried about the direction of events.”
Mr. Kerry was accompanied by a team of senior aides on economic, security and human rights issues, and his meetings here were the first full-fledged “strategic dialogue” with Egypt since 2009.
The discussions, which included a meeting with Mr. Sisi, were another step to rebuild ties and followed the Obama administration decision earlier this year to end a suspension of hundreds of millions of the annual $1.3 billion in American military aid to Egypt.
As the two sides met, an Egyptian court postponed its announcement of a verdict in the case involving three journalists for Al Jazeera’s English-language network, rescheduling the announcement for the end of August. The three were arrested at the end of 2013 and charged with conspiring to destabilize Egypt. But the government has never disclosed any evidence of either an inaccurate broadcast or a conspiracy with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In his appearance with Mr. Kerry, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, suggested that the Egyptian authorities were trying to strike a better balance between maintaining security and protecting human rights.
But Mr. Shoukry stoutly defended his government’s jailing of demonstrators and 18 journalists who press freedom groups say have been wrongly detained.
The journalists “are accused of implication with terrorist activity,” Mr. Shoukry said. “They are all in the state of due process.”
Mr. Kerry arrived at a time of growing concern about advances by units of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, both in Sinai in Egypt and next door in Libya.
President Sisi’s government has imposed tight security in North Sinai, where the militants have been operating for more than two years. The military enforces a strict nighttime curfew, cuts off most telecommunications during the day and has used American-made F-16s and Apaches to destroy many targets in towns where militants were suspected of hiding, occasionally leaving villages in ruins.
But Mr. Sisi’s government has so far failed to stop the militants, who have mounted larger and more sophisticated attacks. At the end of June, militants successfully assassinated Egypt’s chief prosecutor with a remote-controlled bomb in the streets of the capital.
At the beginning of July, they staged coordinated attacks on more than a dozen army checkpoints around the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid. Then the militants hit an Egyptian naval vessel with a missile off the coast.
In Washington, a growing number of lawmakers and human rights experts have argued that Mr. Sisi’s record on human rights and democracy is hampering Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts.
Last week a bipartisan group of six senators released a public letter urging Mr. Kerry to make human rights a centerpiece of his visit to Egypt.
“Choking off all peaceful and legitimate avenues for dissent coupled with unaccountable institutions fuels violent extremism and increases the likelihood of long-term instability,” the senators wrote.
The signatories included Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, as well as Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican.
Before his trip, Mr. Kerry met in Washington with Mohamed Soltan, who had dual American and Egyptian citizenship and spent almost two years in prison on charges that he supported an Islamist protest.
In his comments to reporters on Sunday, Mr. Kerry underscored the risk that young protesters who have been jailed might be radicalized while in prison. That was an indirect reference to thousands of secular and Muslim Brotherhood protesters who are being held.
But making his own effort to balance Egypt’s efforts to confront the Islamic State with human rights concerns, Mr. Kerry was also careful in his public remarks not to criticize the Egyptian government too harshly.
Asked about the government’s decision to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which won the most votes in 2011 and 2012, Mr. Kerry sought to walk a fine line.
“Do I think there are things they could do further? Yes,” he said without mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood. “Have we laid them out? Yes.
“But we need to do so while simultaneously fighting a pernicious entity called Daesh,” Mr. Kerry said, using another name for the Islamic State.
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(via NY Times)