CAIRO — Arab countries should resist funding Sunni fighters in what is turning into a cross-border war between Iraq and Syria because that support eventually could help the fast-spreading insurgency in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.
Kerry said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has become a threat to the entire Mideast, and perhaps beyond.
"This is a critical moment," Kerry said after meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
He said the group is a "threat not only to Iraq, but to the entire region."
"There is no safety margin whatsoever in funding a group like ISIL, and we particularly discourage individuals in the region who may have been sending money through some illicit charity or through various back-channel initiatives under the guise this is for the general welfare and benefit for people who have been displaced, but then that money finds its way into the hands of terrorists," Kerry said.
"We are obviously discouraging any kind of support to entities where it is unsure where the money is going ... and that goes to any government, any charity, any individual. We must not allow that kind of funding to be a part of this equation," Kerry said.
U.S. officials later made clear that Kerry was not calling for an end to aid — financial or otherwise — to Syria's moderate Sunni rebel forces. They have fought for more than three years to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
It is possible that some support to Syrian rebels may wind up in insurgents' hands due to the amount of overlap between Sunni fighters within and between the two counties.
A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters said the U.S. is comfortable that the moderate opposition in Syria has enough control over its international assistance to prevent that from happening.
The U.S. is looking for ways to work with Mideast nations, most of them led by Sunni governments, to curb the Sunni militant group's growth.
Some officials in the United States and the Mideast have suggested privately that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must leave office before Iraq's Sunnis will believe their concerns will be heard by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
But al-Maliki has showed no indication he is willing to step down, and his political party won the most votes in national elections in April.
Both Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said it's up to Iraqis to decide their leaders, but at the same time they said Baghdad must create an inclusive government if it hopes to quell the violence.
Shoukry, in a joint news conference with Kerry, said Egypt is worried about any spillover effects the unrest in Iraq will cause its Arab neighbors.
He said Egypt is looking to work with other countries to help the Iraqi people.