Kerry's first visit to Egypt since Morsi's ouster shrouded in secrecy

US Secretary of State John KerryKerry's visit to Egypt, which remained unconfirmed well into the eleventh hour, is a pivotal moment in US-Egypt relations, said to be experiencing strain after US cut military aid to gypt (Reuters image)

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on Sunday pressing for reforms during the highest-level American visit to Egypt since the ouster of the country's first democratically elected president.

The Egyptian military's removal of Mohammed Morsi in July led the US to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

The State Department apparently expected a frosty reception for Kerry, especially with tensions running high on the eve of Monday's scheduled start of Morsi's trial on charges of inciting murder. The department refused to confirm Kerry's visit until he landed in Cairo, even though Egypt's official news agency reported the impending trip three days earlier.

The secrecy was unprecedented for a secretary of state's travel to Egypt, for decades one of the closest US allies in the Arab world, and highlighted the deep rifts today between Washington and Cairo.

Kerry last was in Egypt in March, when he urged Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed government to enact sweeping economic reforms and govern in a more inclusive manner. Those calls went unheeded. Simmering public unhappiness with his rule boiled over when the powerful Egyptian military deposed Morsi on July 3 and established an interim government.

The Obama administration was caught in a bind over whether to condemn the ouster as a coup and cut the annual $1.3 billion in US military assistance that such a determination would legally require.

The US waffled for months before deciding last month to suspend most big-ticket military aid such as tanks, helicopters and fighter jets, while declining to make a coup determination. The US also is withholding $260 million in budget support to the government.

Egypt is receiving billions of dollars in aid from wealthy Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But Egyptian authorities reacted angrily to the US aid suspension, declaring it a new low point in ties that have been strained since the popular revolt that unseated authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

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