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Kerry Aims To Repair Relations With Egypt
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Kerry Aims To Repair Relations With Egypt

Middle East

Kerry Aims To Repair Relations With Egypt

Kerry Aims To Repair Relations With Egypt
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Secretary of State John Kerry visits Egypt on Sunday as the two countries intensify ties, despite the concerns of human rights advocates.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Secretary of State Kerry is headed to the Mideast and Asia. Tomorrow, he'll be in Egypt for what's being called a strategic dialogue with that country's foreign minister. The alliance between the two countries has been strained in the last few years as Egyptians ousted a dictator, voted for its first democratically elected president, then booted him out as well. But the secretary of state seems intent on repairing the relationship despite a grim Egyptian human rights record under the new president. NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The talks were delayed and then delayed again because Kerry was busy negotiating the Iran nuclear deal. That's a sign of just how much the U.S. relationship with Egypt has changed.

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Egypt is a lesser priority in a very tumultuous region.

FADEL: That's Michael Wahid Hanna of The Century Foundation. He says the U.S. has other regional priorities right now from the Iran deal to the rise of the self-declared Islamic State. And he says the U.S. realizes it has less influence on Egypt than it used to.

HANNA: All of these things have converged to produce a much less ambitious policy that's primarily focused on re-establishing a functional relationship.

FADEL: And that will be the focus of the talks on Sunday and Monday, to re-establish a functioning relationship. That means the U.S. wants a stable Arab ally in a region that's descending into chaos. In a report to Congress in May, the State Department said that a relationship with Egypt served national security interests, and military aid should be resumed despite what it called a negative trajectory on human rights. This week, several U.S. senators wrote a letter to Kerry, urging him to, quote, "make political reform, human rights and fundamental freedoms a central element of the agenda." They're worried that Egypt is not on a path to long-term stability, and Egyptian leaders will see the resumption of military aid as an endorsement of their policies. Egypt says the U.S. should back them because it's fighting terror and claims its crackdown on political opponents like the Muslim Brotherhood is part of that agenda. The Century Foundation's Michael Wahid Hanna says the U.S. would like to be able to point to at least a little progress on human rights.

HANNA: The Obama administration, at this point, wants to be able to justify the re-establishing of a more cooperative relationship with Egypt. And to do that, they really need to see some progress on issues like political prisoners, like political repression, like the treatment of civil society organizations.

FADEL: To do that, Hanna says, there needs to be some easing of political repression, something, he says, that shows this isn't a full-blown authoritarian relapse. In the lead up to Kerry's visit, the U.S. delivered eight F-16 jets. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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