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Kerry urges Egypt unity as US pledges $250 mn in aid

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Egypt to work harder and make compromises for ending its political divisions, as he pledged $250 million in US aid to revive the country's dilapidated economy.

On Sunday, Kerry wrapped up his two-day visit to Egypt with a "candid and constructive" meeting with Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in which he called on the bitterly divided Egyptian political factions to unite.

"It is clear that more hard work and compromise will be required to restore unity, political stability and economic health to Egypt," Kerry told Morsi, according to a statement issued by the top US diplomat.

Kerry also told Morsi that the United States was now offering $250 million in aid to Egypt aimed at helping the country's economy.

"Today I advised him the United States will now provide the first $190 million of our pledged $450 million in budget support funds," Kerry said, adding Washington also pledged an additional $60 million for a new joint Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund.

The aid was pledged after "Morsi's assurance that he plans to complete the IMF process," the statement said, referring to a $4.8 billion loan Egypt is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund.

The loan would help restore investor and foreign lenders' confidence in Egypt, which has suffered a sharp economic decline since the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

On Saturday, after flying in to Cairo from Turkey, Kerry stressed on the importance of the IMF loan in his meeting with Egypt's business leaders.

"It is paramount, essential, urgent that the Egyptian economy gets stronger, that it gets back on its feet," he said. "It is clear to us that the IMF arrangement needs to be reached. So we need to give the marketplace the confidence."

Kerry said Washington was prepared to help Egypt, which has seen its foreign currency reserves slide to a critical level and the Egyptian pound lose around eight percent against the dollar.

On Saturday, Kerry urged Egyptian political and business leaders to reach a consensus, after months of political turmoil and unrest in the country.

"We do believe that in this moment of economic challenge that it is important for the Egyptian people to come together around the economic choices and to find some common ground in making those choices," Kerry told reporters after meeting his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Kamel Amr.

Kerry's visit comes with Egypt deeply divided between Morsi's mainly Islamist allies and a wide-ranging opposition that accuses the president of failing to address the country's economic needs and political concerns.

A US State Department official travelling with him told reporters that "the primary goal here is to encourage his - to encourage his work that he did with Israelis in getting the Gaza ceasefire." He was referring to Egyptian-mediated truce that ended eight days of fighting in November between Israel and Islamist Hamas.

On his first tour as secretary of state, Kerry met British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan before coming to Cairo.

"All of them are prepared to be helpful but all of them believe that Egypt needs to make some fundamental economic choices," he said on Saturday.

Kerry began the Cairo leg of his tour by meeting Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and later meeting the League's former chief Amr Mussa.

As he began his trip, dozens of protesters burned his pictures outside the foreign ministry and chanted against perceived US support for Morsi.

But Kerry insisted that Washington was not biased towards any party.

"I make it particularly clear today on behalf of President Obama and the American people that we come here as friends for the Egyptian people, not for one government, or one person or one party or one ideology but for the Egyptian people."

On Saturday, Kerry also spoke with Mohamed ElBaradei by telephone. ElBaradei and opposition figure Hamdeen Sabahi had refused to meet him in person.

The two along with Mussa are leading figures in the National Salvation Front, a coalition of liberal and leftist parties opposed to Morsi, which has announced a boycott of parliamentary elections that begin next month.

Morsi has called for staggered parliamentary elections to start on April 22. The NSF said it would boycott the polls, expressing doubts over their transparency.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130303/kerry-urges-egypt-unity-us-pledges-250-mn-aid