Kerry: U.S. ties with Egypt 'vital'
November 3, 2013 -- Updated 1901 GMT (0301 HKT)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, holds a joint press conference with Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy in Cairo.
- Secretary of State John Kerry visits Egypt a day before Mohamed Morsy's trial starts
- Kerry's visit is the highest-level U.S. trip to Egypt since the coup that ousted Morsy
- He pushes for reforms and defends a decision to suspend significant military aid
- "It's not a punishment," Kerry says
(CNN) -- U.S. ties with Egypt go deeper than aid, America's top diplomat said Sunday.
"Let me make it clear here today: President Obama and the American people support the people of Egypt," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. "We believe this is a vital relationship."
Kerry's visit marked the highest-level U.S. official trip to Egypt since former President Mohamed Morsy's ouster in July. And it came just a day before Morsy is expected to make his first court appearance as he stands trial on charges of inciting violence.
Kerry's trip to Egypt was his first time in the country since the U.S. suspended significant military aid to Egypt over the bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm backed Morsy.
After meeting with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, Kerry pushed for reforms as he defended the U.S. decision to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance.
"It's not a punishment," Kerry said. "It's a reflection of a policy in the United States under our law."
The move was the culmination of months of debate within the Obama administration about how to respond to the coup that removed Morsy from power.
Egypt FM on struggle for stability
Wider impact of U.S. cutting aid to Egypt
But on Sunday, Kerry described the aid as "a very small issue."
"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," Kerry said.
Kerry stressed that U.S. humanitarian support to Egypt continues, in addition to counterterrorism efforts with the military and work to ensure safety in the Sinai Peninsula. While in Cairo, he hosted a meeting with civil society organizations, including faith-based groups, human rights advocates, and youth and labor organizations, "to discuss how Egypt can continue on its path to political and economic reform," a senior State Department official said.
The aid suspension last month roiled Egyptian officials. Fahmy told CNN's Christiane Amanpour at the time that the decision raised concerns about the U.S.-Egypt relationship.
"This has been a relationship that has a continuity to it, especially on strategic issues like military cooperation. And any disruption in that continuity raises concerns. ... This is a very important relationship to both countries, and we need to work to enhance it, because it serves both sides," he said.
Kerry's visit to Egypt was the first stop on a 10-day trip to the Middle East, Europe and Northern Africa.
He left Cairo on Sunday for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
CNN's Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.
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