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US offers Egypt late invite to Africa summit

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry (R) listens while US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint press conference June 22, 2014 in Cairo, Egypt
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry (R) listens while US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint press conference on June 22, 2014 in Cairo

The United States has invited Egypt to an African leaders summit in Washington next month, after initially barring Cairo following the military's coup against the former Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

A US official said the late invitation had been offered as Egypt had recently been allowed back into the African Union after a year's absence.

"President Obama invited all African heads of state or government in good standing with the United States and the African Union to attend the US-Africa Leaders Summit," said Ned Price, a National Security Council spokesman.

"When the invitations were first issued, Egypt was suspended from the AU.

"Upon Egypt’s readmission to the AU, we made the decision to invite them."

Guinea-Bissau, which was also readmitted to the AU after holding democratic elections following a military coup in 2012, also got a US invitation, officials said.

- Roller coaster US-Egypt ties -

The invitation to Egypt came as Washington tries to repair relations with the strategically vital Arab nation, and as the Cairo government emerges as a key player in the search for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Relations between Washington and Cairo have been on a roller coaster during the Obama administration, following the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak during Arab Spring protests.

Washington then backed the country's first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, who was in turn thrown out of power in a military coup which led to the suspension of US military aid.

In recent months, despite calling for a restoration of democracy in Egypt, the United States has attempted to revive ties with Cairo.

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Egypt last month and Washington took steps to unlock $572 million in frozen military aid to the country.

Controversy stalked the visit however, as a day after Kerry left, a trio of Al-Jazeera journalists were given long jail sentences.

It was an embarrassment for the top US diplomat and encapsulated how Washington is often torn between its support for human rights and the need to retain Egypt as a strategic ally.

Egypt's state media said that Kerry would return to Egypt on Tuesday for talks on a possible ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. The US government would not confirm any travel plans.

- Summit focused on trade -

The African Nations summit, which will attract almost 50 countries, will be held in Washington on August 5 and 6.

Its purpose is to push US efforts to expand trade and investment in Africa and highlight its commitment to the continent's security and democratic evolution.

When asked about the decision to invite the Cairo government, White House spokesman Josh Earnest spoke about the importance of democracy in Africa, highlighting some of the political challenges Obama will face in dialogue with nations like Egypt at the summit.

He said Washington was keen to "nurture some of the advocates for democracy that we see in these countries.

"In some cases, those advocates are pretty aggressively squelched. We want to encourage the development of governing systems that are respectful of basic human rights."

The idea for the summit, which takes place with Washington increasingly aware of China's attempt to enhance its own diplomatic profile in Africa, was first announced by Obama in a speech in Cape Town in June last year.

Madagascar, which was also not initially invited to the summit, was invited by Obama earlier this year, after elections in late September 2013 led to a democratic government.

Notable absentees from the summit will include Zimbabwe and Sudan.

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