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John Kerry presses Egypt on steps to democracy

Visit to divided nation comes on eve of trial of deposed leader Mohammed Morsi

Secretary of State John F. Kerry voiced support for Egypt during a meeting with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

Jason Reed/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State John F. Kerry voiced support for Egypt during a meeting with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

CAIRO — In the highest-level visit here by a US official since the Egyptian military removed the country’s first democratically elected president from power, Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Egyptian leaders Sunday to stick to their “road map” for restoring democracy.

In substance as well as tone, Kerry’s visit to Egypt reflected the Obama administration’s determination to work with a military leadership that ruthlessly put down protesters from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that put forth the successful candidacy of President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted July 3. A military government, now firmly entrenched here, has promised to establish a civilian-led government.

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“The road map is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Kerry said, referring to the plan by the Egyptian authorities to conduct a national referendum on an amended constitution and hold parliamentary and presidential elections by next spring.

“There are questions we have here and there about one thing or another,” he added in a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart. “I think it’s important for all of us, until proven otherwise, to accept that this is the track Egypt is on and to work to help it to be able to achieve that.”

But questions remained about the Egyptian military’s intentions and the degree of US influence.

Kerry met with Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, and General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the powerful minister of defense, who spearheaded the ouster of Morsi. But Sissi and Mansour did not pledge that they would not extend Egypt’s state of emergency when it lapses on Nov. 14, as Kerry had requested.

Kerry did not raise one of the most wrenching chapters in Egypt’s political life: Morsi’s murder trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday. Morsi has been detained since he was ousted in July. Instead, Kerry reaffirmed that Egypt should avoid politically motivated arrests, ensure due process for detainees, and establish an inclusive government that is open to political rivals who eschew violence, State Department officials said.

Cairo was the first stop in an eight-nation trip that will include a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday between Kerry and King Abdullah on the new strains between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Though the official Egyptian news agency had noted that Kerry was headed to Cairo, the State Department did not confirm the stop in advance, out of concern for security and perhaps to limit the possibility of anti-US demonstrations.

During his stop in Cairo, which lasted several hours, Kerry also met with the Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, and with human rights advocates and representatives from religious, labor, and youth organizations — civic society leaders who have concerns about the Egyptian government, and perhaps about US policy.

Since the takeover, Egypt’s generals have appeared immune to US pressure and indifferent to Kerry’s seeming endorsement of their motivations. The Obama administration has refrained from categorizing the military’s action as a coup, which would trigger a cutoff of the vast majority of a $1.5 billion annual assistance package. But US officials have been critical of the military’s crackdown on demonstrators and the detention of Morsi’s supporters.

To signal its concern, the Obama administration in October suspended the delivery of major weapons systems, including Apache helicopters, F-16 jets, Harpoon antiship missiles, and parts for M-1 tanks, and has withheld about $260 million in support for the Egyptian budget.

At the same time, the United States has maintained support for Egypt’s counterterrorism programs, including the military’s efforts to secure the restive Sinai Peninsula.

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