Kerry assures allies Iran deal makes Mideast `safer`

US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to assure Middle East allies Sunday that the Iran nuclear deal would make them safer, as he began a regional tour.  

Cairo: US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to assure Middle East allies Sunday that the Iran nuclear deal would make them safer, as he began a regional tour.

Kerry met his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry to patch up troubled relations between the two countries with a pledge of support.

He later met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before leaving for Qatar to meet Gulf Arab foreign ministers.

Egypt and other regional states such as Saudi Arabia are suspicious of Iran, which they see as bent on destabilising them.

"There can be absolutely no question that if the Vienna plan is fully implemented, it will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be or were," Kerry told a joint news conference with Shoukry of the nuclear deal.

"The United States and Egypt recognise that Iran is engaged in destabilising activities in the region -- and that is why it is so important to ensure that Iran`s nuclear programme remains wholly peaceful," he said.

"If Iran is destabilising, it is far, far better to have an Iran that doesn`t have a nuclear weapon than one that does."

Ties between the US and Egypt frayed after then army chief Sisi overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

More than 1,000 of Morsi`s supporters were killed in a sweeping crackdown, and militants have since killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.

Most of the attacks have been by the Egyptian affiliate of the jihadist Islamic State group, which a US-led coalition is battling in Syria and Iraq.Kerry spoke of the need for a "balance" between fighting militants and respecting human rights in Egypt.

"There has been a little bit of tensions here and there over certain issues. The US has expressed concerns about some of the challenges of human rights protection," Kerry said at the news conference.

An Egyptian foreign ministry statement said both sides would keep cooperating closely "to improve their mutual security, to combat terrorism and extremism". 

At his talks with Sisi, Kerry raised "the importance of press freedom", a US diplomat said, while the presidency underlined Egypt`s wish to develop its "strategic relations" with the United States.

Washington froze arms deliveries to Cairo following the crackdown on Morsi`s supporters, but resumed full aid in March and delivered a batch of F-16 jets last week.

"We have signficantly increased military cooperation as seen from the delivery of the F-16s, other equipment and goods which are very essential in the fight against terrorism," Kerry said.

At his meeting with Shoukry, Kerry said Washington wanted to support Cairo economically and politically.

The United States has again grown supportive of Egypt, long a key Middle East ally, as Sisi battles the IS insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula."Secretary Kerry reiterated the commitment of the United States to assisting the Egyptian people in their efforts to counter terrorism and stem the spread of ISIL in the region and in Egypt," the diplomat said of the meeting with Sisi, using an alternative acronym for IS.

However, Washington has remained critical of Egypt`s human rights record.

On Sunday, when asked about jailed journalists, Shoukry said: "None of these journalists are held... in relation with their profession as journalists" but because of their "implication in terrorist activities".

Earlier Sunday, an Egyptian court postponed for a second time its verdict in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists, in a move that sparked widespread criticism.

Kerry`s trip, which ends on August 8, will not include Israel, one of Washington`s closest allies, which has been a fierce critic of the July 14 nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran.

In Doha, Kerry will meet his counterparts from the six Gulf Cooperation Council states, seeking to allay their fears about Shiite Iran after the nuclear deal.

"This is an opportunity, really, for the secretary to do a deep dive with the GCC foreign ministers to try to respond to any remaining questions that they might have and hopefully to satisfy them and ensure that they`re supporting our effort going forward," the State Department official said.

Many Gulf Arab states have said they are concerned about Iran`s regional ambitions following the accord with the United States and Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. 

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