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Kerry says Egypt is ‘important partner’ in fight against ISIS

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke during a press conference in Egypt.
Associated Press
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke during a press conference in Egypt.

CAIRO — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday hailed Egypt is an ‘‘important partner’’ in the emerging coalition aimed at beating back the extremist Islamic State group, while stressing that the need for Cairo’s support would not lead Washington to ignore human rights concerns.

During a visit to Cairo, Kerry referred to Egypt as ‘‘an intellectual and cultural capital to the Muslim world,’’ saying it has a ‘‘critical role’’ to play in denouncing the harsh ideology of the Islamic State group, which has seized much of northeastern Syria and northern and western Iraq.

Egypt is home to Al-Azhar University, one of the oldest and most revered centers of religious learning for Sunni Muslims. It has issued several statements and religious edicts condemning the Islamic State group and its self-styled caliphate. Nearly 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry said would be a worldwide fight to defeat the militants.

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Kerry spoke after meeting with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on how Egypt might contribute to the coalition. The top U.S. diplomat did not elaborate about what they had discussed.

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Egypt is unlikely to send troops to battle the Islamic State group but could provide logistical and intelligence support to the coalition.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told the Egyptian daily Seventh Day on Friday that Egypt’s participation in the coalition ‘‘doesn’t necessarily mean that we will participate in a military action.’’

Kerry’s visit comes two days after representatives from 10 Arab countries, including Egypt, met with the top American diplomat in the Saudi city of Jeddah promising to ‘‘do their share’’ to fight the Islamic State militants.

NATO member Turkey is refusing to join in, while the United States has refused to partner with Iran or Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, despite the fact that both view the Islamic State group as a major threat.

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The 10 Mideast allies announced their backing for a strategy to ‘‘destroy’’ the group ‘‘wherever it is, including in both Iraq and Syria,’’ following a meeting with Kerry in the Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah.

U.S.-Egypt ties have been strained since July 2013, when el-Sissi, then the army chief, overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi amid massive protests demanding his resignation.

The U.S. has criticized Egypt’s subsequent massive crackdown on Morsi’s supporters and withheld some military aid while urging Cairo to press ahead with a democratic transition and respect human rights.

Kerry said he had raised those concerns with el-Sissi during their talks on Saturday and insisted the U.S. ‘‘does not ever trade its concerns for human rights for any other objective.’’