Tillerson in Egypt at start of Mideast tour

Tillerson in Egypt at start of Mideast tour

Tillerson was already facing a series of confrontational talks at nearly every stop on his five-country tour. Israel said it destroyed an Iranian drone that entered its airspace, and an Israeli plane was shot down over Syria.

The top US diplomat's visit to Ankara comes amid escalated tensions between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies over a series of disagreements, including human rights cases and the Syria crisis.

Besides Egypt, Tillerson also will visit Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in coming days, where he will engage in a grab bag of the most complicated and sensitive issues embroiling the region today.

Tillerson will raise human rights issues with el-Sissi, according to the USA officials, who previewed the trip on condition that they not be named. "But they're also partners with whom we're facing some of the toughest issues that we have to face in the region".

Turkey is the second stop of Tillerson's five-nation visit to the Middle East next week, following a visit to Jordan.

Egypt also faces a Mar 26-28 election in which Sisi has only a single, last-minute challenger who had previously said he supported the incumbent. But Washington also is concerned about threats to democracy and civil rights in the country as President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has quashed any meaningful opponents to his bid for re-election next month.

Jordanian leaders were upset when the United States recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and suspended some aid for the Palestinians.

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The chief US diplomat will also lead a delegation to the ministerial meeting in Kuwait of the 74-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. And he will discuss the months-long trade embargo several Gulf countries have imposed on Qatar, which Kuwait is trying to mediate.

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.

It is the second visit of a senior U.S. official to the Middle East region, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's Mideast tour in January, since U.S. President Donald Trump recognized last December the debatable holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel amid regional and worldwide outcry. The kingdom is strapped by an influx of 650,000 Syrian refugees, and Tillerson is set to sign an agreement to assist and cooperate with Jordan in tackling security, defense and economic issues.

Russian Federation opposed the call for the cease-fire supported by the United States, calling it unrealistic.

The U.S. officials said the aim was to keep the coalition focused on the complete defeat of IS and other groups, and then rebuilding war-devastated zones to prevent extremists from regaining territory.

US citizen Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist who was arrested in July 2016, was convicted without credible evidence on February 8 by Turkish authorities for being a member of a terror organization. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization, alleging it is an extension of a Kurdish group fighting for autonomy in Turkey for decades. "The Turks are angry, and this is a hard time to do business but it's our belief that there are still some very fundamental underlying shared interests".

"At times like this, engagement is all the more important", said a State Department official on Friday, while acknowledging, "It's going to be a hard conversation".

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