Kerry: Egypt has key role to play against ISIS

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (3rd R) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) listen to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd R) before a meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo September 13, 2014. (Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described Egypt on Saturday that it has a critical role to play in countering Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group’s ideology.

“Egypt is on the frontline of the fight against terrorism, particularly when it comes to fighting extremist groups in Sinai,” Agence France-Presse quoted Kerry as telling a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.

Kerry is in Cairo as part of a regional tour to build support for President Barack Obama’s plan to strike both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi frontier to defeat ISIS militants and build a coalition for a potentially complex military campaign in the heart of the Middle East.

From his side, Shoukri told reporters there was no difference between “terrorism” inside Egypt or abroad as Cairo will target both.

He further explained that regional militant groups shared the same ideology and must be dealt with.

He also said that ties existed between ISIS and other militant groups in the region and that global action was needed to counter the threat.

Relations between Washington and Cairo have been strained since the military's overthrow of elected Islamist president Mohammed Mursi last year, but the Egyptian government sees the fight against ISIS as its cause as well.

Washington also suspended some military aid to Egypt after the military’s overthrow of Mursi.

Kerry also said that he had “frank” talks on human rights with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“The United States doesn’t ever trade its concern for human rights for any other objectives,” Kerry said.

“And we had a frank discussion about concerns that have been expressed. I believe that President Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukri and others are well aware of concerns that have been expressed.”

Mursi's successor, the former army chief Sisi, is fighting Islamist militants in the restive Sinai Peninsula who have expressed support for the Islamic State.

But it appears unlikely that Egypt's formidable army will make a significant military contribution to the fight in Iraq and Syria.

Washington is seeking a stamp of approval for its campaign from Egypt’s religious institutions, which include the prestigious Al-Azhar.

“One of the issues is to have their religious institutions to speak out against ISIS, to talk about it in Fridays sermons,” a U.S. official travelling with Kerry told reporters.

“They (the Egyptians) are concerned about foreign fighters, an issue that has aggravated their domestic terrorism,” the official said.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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