Kerry in Cairo to broaden anti-IS coalition

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US Secretary of State says Egypt on frontline in fight against 'terrorism' as he acknowledges raising human rights concerns in talks with Sisi

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby (L) in Cairo, Egypt on 13 September, 2014 (AA)
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Thursday 12 February 2015 23:45 UTC
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US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Egypt was on the frontline of fighting "terrorism" as he sought Cairo's support for a coalition against Islamic State (IS) militants.

"Egypt is on the frontline of the fight against terrorism, particularly when it comes to fighting extremist groups in Sinai," Kerry told a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.

Kerry also said he had a "frank" discussion on human rights concerns with Egyptian PresidentA bdel Fattah al-Sisi in a meeting Saturday to bolster a coalition against Islamic State.

"The United States doesn't ever trade its concern for human rights for any other objectives," Kerry said.

"And we had a frank discussion about concerns that have been expressed. I believe that President Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukri and others are well aware of concerns that have been expressed."

Kerry arrived Saturday in Cairo on the latest leg of a regional tour to forge a broad coalition against IS militants in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Kerry spoke of "a broad-based coalition with Arab nations, European nations, the United States and others."

Turkey is a fellow NATO member but has so far refused to open its air bases to US forces and other members of the coalition.

He held a two-hour meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A Turkish official told AFP that Ankara's hands were tied because of the fate of 49 Turks, including children and diplomats, kidnapped by militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June.

The previous day in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Kerry secured the backing of 10 Arab states for a global push to weaken IS, whose appeal has drawn volunteers from around the world.

However, Washington has insisted it will not work with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his forces.

The conflict in Syria has killed around 200,000 people in three and half years.

IS led a major offensive in Iraq that began on June 9 and swept through the country's Sunni Arab heartland, where many are angry and alienated by what they see as the sectarian policies of the Shiite-dominated government.

US President Barack Obama this week outlining a strategy to stamp out the group.

The CIA put the number of fighters in IS ranks at 20,000 to 31,500 in Iraq and Syria, up to three times the previous estimate.

US aircraft have carried out more than 150 strikes in Iraq since early August, the latest coming on Friday in the area of the country's largest dam, north of Mosul, in which two IS vehicles were destroyed, according to the US military.

Washington plans to help revamp the Iraqi army, which withered under the IS-led onslaught in June, and has announced it would fly combat aircraft from an airbase in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil.

Three years after the end of the nearly nine-year US military presence in Iraq, which some observers say birthed what is now IS, Obama has been careful to stress to the war-weary American public that he would not send ground forces into combat.

Earlier Friday, French President Francois Hollande travelled to Baghdad, thus becoming the first head of state to visit Iraq since the militants seized large parts of the country in June, and he said France was ready to step up its military involvement.

The French leader is trying to take a lead role in responding to the crisis and will host a conference on Iraq in Paris on Monday.

Hollande, who flew to Iraq with 15 tonnes of aid on his plane, stopped in Erbil to visit displaced Christians in a camp.

France was quick to offer taking displaced Christians in, but Hollande said "the first duty we have is to fight against terrorism, it is not to give in to terrorism by drawing people" out of their homeland.

Germany, which has ruled out taking part in air strikes against IS, outlawed providing active support to IS, warning that the group poses a threat to Europe.