Tough Turkey talks await Tillerson

Egypt, US to coordinate closely, USD 1 bln for war on terrorism

- An intense military clash between Israel and Iran over the weekend presented Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with an unexpected crisis as he headed to the Middle East on a five-nation tour that was already shaping up to be the most challenging trip of his tenure.

Egypt has launched a major military offensive against militants on the Sinai peninsula, said to be a major counterterrorism operation.

He will visit North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey on the tour's final stop where the US diplomat is expected to encounter with hard issues regarding the U.S.'s support for the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

"We agreed that we would continue our close co-operation on counterterrorism measures, including our joint commitment to the defeat of IS", Tillerson said.

"The Egyptian people should be confident that the US commitment to continue to support Egypt in fight against terrorism and bringing security to Egyptian people is steadfast".

His arrival in Cairo came one day after Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes in Syria, having intercepted an Iranian drone that infiltrated its airspace and an Israeli F-16 was downed upon its return from Syria.

On Monday morning, Shoukry held discussions with Tillerson, where they tackled recent developments in the region.

Tillerson will not be making any new U.S. assistance pledges at the Iraq Reconstruction Conference, the officials said.

The chief USA diplomat is meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss other regional security issues such as Libya and Syria, as well as Israeli-Palestinian issues.

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After Cairo, Tillerson is to head to Kuwait to take part in a ministerial meeting of the US-led military coalition that has been battling the Islamic State jihadist group in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Last year, Washington withdrew some financial aid to Egypt because it had failed to make progress on respecting human rights and democracy.

"We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections not just in Egypt but in any country", Tillerson said.

He also reiterated calls for free and fair elections in Egypt, where presidential polls are slated for next month.

"On the elections, we support a genuine and a credible electoral process, and we believe should guarantee the right for all citizens to participate freely and fairly", a US State Department official said ahead of Mr Tillerson's visit.

He said the United States was also keen to continue supporting Egypt in its economic recovery, after the country implemented tough economic reforms tied to a $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has existed since the Western-backed creation of Israel and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1948.

In Jordan, Tillerson will be doing damage control, after President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and his administration's subsequent decision to withhold aid money from the United Nations agency assisting Palestinian refugees.

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