(JTA) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Cairo said Egypt was moving forward with its plans to conduct elections by next spring.
Kerry was the first high-level American official to visit Egypt since the decision to withhold delivery of cutting-edge arms from the United States over the Egyptian military’s crackdown on the opposition.
The focus of the visit was to be on the Egyptian political road map, including a plan by Egyptian authorities to conduct a national referendum on an amended constitution and then hold parliamentary and presidential elections by the spring, according to a briefing late Saturday by senior State Department officials.
Over the weekend, a State Department official told reporters that the trip highlights “how strong our support is for the democratic transition that the Egyptian people want.”
The official also said it allows the U.S. to reinforce the importance it attaches to bilateral ties with Egypt and the benefits for both countries.
Kerry is set to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Tuesday. Senior State Department officials said that Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators met twice last week and will meet again before Tuesday, saying the pace of negotiations has “intensified.”
The official praised Israel’s release last week of 26 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, calling it “a positive step forward in the overall process” and saying Kerry “believes that the leaders of both sides have made courageous decisions in the name of peace.”
But the official also criticized the concurrent announcement of new housing construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying the U.S. does not consider the building to be “steps that create a positive environment for negotiations.”