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    Kerry: US a Partner of Egypt, Aid Cutback Not Punishment

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told Egypt's army-backed government that Washington remains a committed "friend and partner" despite suspending some military aid to Cairo.

    Speaking on a six-hour visit to the Egyptian capital on Sunday, Kerry said the recent U.S. aid suspension is a minor issue and does not represent a punishment.

    In a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmy, he said U.S.-Egyptian relations should not be defined by the level of American assistance.

    The Obama administration said last month it is suspending delivery of Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in response to the country's recent political violence.

    Washington criticized the Egyptian military for ousting the country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in July and replacing him with an interim government.

    The criticism and aid suspension angered Egypt's leaders and last month prompted Foreign Minister Fahmy to say U.S.-Egyptian relations were in turmoil. But, speaking alongside Kerry, Fahmy said the top U.S. diplomat had given him "indications" that relations are returning to normal.



    Kerry reiterated U.S. calls for Egypt's interim government to hold free and fair elections as part of a promised return to democratic rule next year. He said Washington believes Cairo is implementing a roadmap to achieve that goal.

    The secretary of state met with interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour and Defense Minister and military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as part of the brief trip to Cairo.

    It came one day before ousted president Morsi goes on trial on charges of inciting the killing of anti-Islamist protesters demonstrating outside the presidential palace in December.

    Kerry's Egypt stopover was the first of his nine-day diplomatic mission to the Middle East and Europe.

    He departed later Sunday for Saudi Arabia, whose rulers have criticized the U.S. refusal to take military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, embroiled in a civil war against rebels backed by Riyadh.

    Before departing Cairo, Kerry said the United States and its regional partners "share the same goal" of achieving a "transitional government" in Syria, even if they differ on "individual tactics."

    Kerry's other stops include Israel and the West Bank, where he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He also is due to visit Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco and Poland.

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