John Kerry’s whirlwind Middle East diplomacy tour

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Kerry Egyptian press conference
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy held a news conference after a meeting in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3.

As part of his Middle East trip from November 2 to November 12, US Secretary of State John Kerry is strengthening relationships with several key nations. In just the first few days, he’s already met with officials in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Poland, and Israel, and will now be heading to Palestine, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Morocco. Talk about having a busy 10 days!

Of particular interest, however, are Kerry’s attempts to smooth things over with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, a very close ally, has been critical of the US over its handling of Syria’s chemical attack crisis and Iran’s nuclear programs. Saudi Arabia feels that the US was not harsh enough in punishing the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons, as a US-led military strike was abandoned in favor of a US-Russia deal that allowed the United Nations to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons peacefully. Also, the Saudis are unhappy with the increasingly positive relationship between the US and rival Iran, who they believe is merely developing nuclear technology for military purposes.

Still, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, downplayed the drama by saying, “A true relationship between friends is based on sincerity… rather than mere courtesy. With this perspective, it’s only natural that our policies and views might see agreement in some areas and disagreement in others.” While these words offer hope, Saudi Arabia has already made their displeasure known by refusing their first election to a United Nations Security Council seat in protest over US policies towards Syria and Iran.

As far as Egypt, Kerry called for an end to violence, because the country’s new rulers have been very aggressive towards supporters of the overthrown president, Mohamed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood, which once enjoyed tremendous power under Morsi, has been under attack by the very brutal temporary government. In response, the US stopped sending hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance, although Kerry said, “It’s not a punishment. It’s a reflection of a policy in the United States under our law.”

During his visit to Cairo, the capital of Egypt, Kerry expressed, “Our hope is that we can make the progress we need on democracy, the rights of people, the protections of people, the ability of the country to have its civil society strengthened and restored, and then we will march together hand in hand into the future, with Egypt playing the vital role that it has traditionally played in this region.”

Images courtesy of US Department of State on Flickr.