WASHINGTON, April 29 (Xinhua) -- Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday stressed U.S. ties with Egypt, but also voiced concern about its court system.
The top American envoy referred to the most populous Arab country "a very important strategic partner" of the U.S., with common interests in the region's stability, counterterrorism and peace with Israel.
"Historically Egypt has always played a central role in the region and in our efforts to maintain the peace process, as well as the stability of the region itself," Kerry told reporters before meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy at the State Department.
As the Egyptians go to polls next month to choose a new president, he called for "a political process of inclusivity" and a constitution implemented to broaden the "democratic base" of the country.
He spoke of "disturbing decisions" made in Egypt's court system, saying it has "raised serious challenges for all of us."
An Egyptian court handed down a separate death sentence to 529 and 683 members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood last month and on Monday, prompting Washington to urge the country to stop this practice.
The Obama administration has decided to relax a partial suspension of aid, imposed after the Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi of the Brotherhood from power in July last year and started a crackdown on protesters, by delivering 10 Apache attack helicopters and 650 million dollars in aid.
State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Egypt was facing "significant and growing" threats from extremist groups, particularly in the Sinai, and had used Apache as a "significant component" of its counterterrorism operations on the peninsula.
Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs a Senate panel overseeing foreign aid, said Tuesday that he will not approve the proposed aid to the Egyptian military.
"I'm not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military," he said on the Senate floor. "I'm not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law."
For his part, Fahmy said Egypt "will build a democracy based on the rule of law, and the rule of law means applying laws that are consistent with the constitution through a legal system that's independent and credible to us all -- most of all, to the Egyptian people."