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Kerry starts Middle East mission to allay Iran nuclear fears


US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the Middle East

US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the Middle East

US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the Middle East

US Secretary of State John Kerry has met Egyptian officials in Cairo as part of a Middle East trip aimed at allaying concerns over the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Egyptian state television aired live footage of Mr Kerry meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and other officials. Mr Kerry is having other meetings throughout the day.

Despite continuing human rights concerns in Egypt, the Obama administration is increasing military assistance to the country as it confronts growing threats from extremists, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. On Friday, the US delivered eight F-16 warplanes to Egypt as part of a military support package.

Mr Kerry's visit also comes as a verdict is expected in the trial of three Al-Jazeera English journalists.

US military assistance to Egypt had been on hold until earlier this year due to human rights and democracy concerns in the wake of the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

Some US lawmakers and numerous advocacy groups are urging Mr Kerry to raise human rights issues with Egyptian authorities, including the arrests of dissidents and journalists and mass trials. US officials have said those concerns would be raised at all of Kerry's meetings in Cairo and noted that the State Department's top diplomat for human rights and democracy would be accompanying him.

Broadening US-Egyptian trade and economic ties also will be on the table during Kerry's visit, which comes just days before Egypt inaugurates a second, parallel waterway to allow two-way traffic on the Suez Canal. Egyptian officials are hoping the opening will boost a flagging economy.

From Cairo, Mr Kerry will travel to Doha, Qatar, for talks with Gulf Arab foreign ministers whose countries are wary of the nuclear deal with Iran. In addition to Iran,Mr Kerry and Arab officials are expected to look closely at the situation in Syria and Iraq, which continue to be ravaged by conflict and the spread of the Islamic State extremist group.

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