Cairo, Egypt -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described Egypt as a 'vital partner' in the region on Sunday and said he could see indications that Egypt was moving towards democracy, apparently trying to repair relations hurt by a partial freeze in U.S. aid, pending progress on democracy.
"As I told minister Fahmy in our meeting this morning, Egypt is a vital partner to America in this region," Kerry told journalists at a joint news conference with Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmy, following a meeting between the two this morning.
"The road-map is being carried out to the best of our perception," he added.
Kerry acknowledged that last month's decision by President Barack Obama to freeze some military aid as well as $260 million in cash, pending progress on democracy and human rights, had not gone down well in Cairo.
"Of course we understood that the decision with respect to some aid, which has been held back for a period of time, we knew that in some places, obviously, that wouldn't be well received. But it's not a punishment, it's a reflection of a policy in the United States under our law. We have a law passed by the United States Congress regarding how certain events unfold with respect to the change of a government of a country; and we're bound by that. President Obama has actually worked very, very hard to be able to make certain that we're not disrupting the relationship with Egypt," Kerry said.
Egypt has long been the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel, with the military receiving $1.3 billion a year. However, Fahmy told Reuters on Saturday that Egypt would look beyond the United States to meet its security needs.
Washington has also held up the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian air force.
Ties between the United States and Egypt have deteriorated since the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi. Washington has repeatedly urged the interim government to act with restraint in cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.
But on Sunday, Kerry stressed that the United States and the American people support the Egyptian people.
"Let me make it clear here today; President Obama and the American people support the people of Egypt. We believe this is a vital relationship. I am here today at the instructions of President Obama in order to specifically say to the people of Egypt, we support you in this tremendous transformation that you are undergoing, we know it's difficult, we want to help, we're prepared to do so, and the way it will unfold as the democracy is rekindled in its strength and as the people of Egypt make their choices in the future, I am confident that the United States of America will be able to stand with you and do even more," he said.
Kerry's visit took place a day before Mursi and 14 other senior Muslim brotherhood leaders were due to go on trial charged with inciting violence.
"I mentioned to the minister obviously that part of the road-map and part of the process of strengthening Egypt's linkages to the rest of the world will be measured in the way in which the people of Egypt are sustained in their ability to have the right to assemble, the right to express themselves; but even as they do that, we also agreed, no one should be allowed to practice violence with impunity," said Kerry.
Kerry's Cairo visit is the first stop in a nine-day trip to the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa. His tour will include visits to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.
Kerry next heads to Gulf ally Saudi Arabia, a major donor to Egypt's interim army-backed government. The kingdom appears to be increasingly frustrated with the United States over its perceived inaction on Syria, its diplomatic engagement with Iran and its lukewarm attitude toward the military-backed government in Egypt.
In Riyadh, Kerry will have his first meeting with King Abdullah since becoming America's top diplomat in February.