Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday said Washington was committed to working with Egypt's interim rulers, but urged them to press ahead with reforms on his first visit to Cairo since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Nabil Fahmy (L) ahead of their press conference on November 3, 2013 in Cairo
On the eve of the opening of Morsi's trial, Kerry sought to restore ties with a key regional ally which have been strained since Washington partly suspended aid to Egypt amid concern over slow progress in restoring democracy.
"We are committed to work with and we will continue our cooperation with the interim government," Kerry told a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy after their talks, stressing that ensuring stability was the key to revitalising Egypt's economic growth.
US officials told reporters traveling with Kerry that he also pressed President Adly Mansour and powerful military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi not to extend the state of emergency, in place now for three months, beyond November 14.
While he did not raise Morsi's case, Kerry repeatedly called for inclusiveness, US officials said, and warned that politically motivated trials "are not acceptable" to the United States.
Kerry "said that the crackdown that was under way was inappropriate and inclusivity required that there be an outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood and others," one senior State Department official said.
Mansour told Kerry he had not really used the powers afforded under the state of emergency -- which grants security forces wide-ranging powers to arrest -- other than to impose a night-time curfew, the official said.
Although there was no commitment on what his government would do, "the language was positive," the US official said.
Kerry also played down last month's suspension of part of $1.5 billion in annual US aid to Cairo, denying the decision had been taken to punish Egypt's military leaders and saying it "is a very small issue between us."
"US-Egyptian relations should not be defined by assistance," Kerry said, adding that direct aid would continue to help Egyptians in areas such as health and education and to aid "counterterrorism" efforts.
In a move that angered Cairo, Washington last month said it was "recalibrating" its aid to Egypt -- including about $1.3 billion for military assistance -- and suspending the delivery of big-ticket items like Apache helicopters and F-16 aircraft.
Egypt's official news agency MENA reported that Kerry -- who in a rare move among allies slipped into the country unannounced and stayed for only about six hours -- met with Sisi to discuss "working to reinforce and develop the strategic relations."
Kerry also met a broad cross-section of civil society groups, including religious groups, human rights advocates, and youth and labour organisations.
He condemned the almost daily eruption of violence since Morsi's ouster, but said nothing about Morsi himself, who was Egypt's first freely elected leader until he was toppled by the military after only a year in office.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in Egypt as security forces engage in a sweeping crackdown against supporters of Morsi, with the former leader held incommunicado since his July 3 ouster.
Egypt vows return to civilian rule
Kerry also endorsed the interim government's moves to restore full democracy in Egypt. According to the interim government's timetable, parliamentary elections are to be held by mid-2014 followed by presidential polls.
"The roadmap is being carried out to the best of our perceptions," Kerry said.
US officials insisted there was no discussion of setting a timeline for the full restoration of US aid, although Washington has agreed to launch a strategic dialogue with Cairo to tackle many bilateral issues.
Fahmy, who has previously criticised the aid suspension, offered a more upbeat assessment of US-Egyptian ties on Sunday.
"I said a few days ago that Egyptian-American relations were tense, and I believe after my talks with the US secretary of state today that there are good indications that we seek to resume these relations in a positive manner," said Fahmy.
He also vowed that there would be a return to civilian government in his country.
Kerry left later Sunday for Riyadh, the second stop on a packed 11-day trip which will also take in Poland, Israel, Bethlehem, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.
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