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US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday his country is committed to working with Egypt's interim rulers, on his first visit to Cairo since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
On the eve of the opening of Morsi's trial, Kerry was in Cairo to shore up ties with a key ally and ensure it moves ahead on plans to restore democracy, just weeks after Washington partly suspended aid to Egypt.
"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, urging "inclusive, free and fair elections".
"The United States is a friend of the people of Egypt, of the country of Egypt, and we are a partner," he stressed.
Kerry also played down Washington's suspension of part of its $1.5 billion in annual 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 direct aid would continue to help Egyptians in areas such as health and education and to aid "counter terrorism" 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 delivery of big-ticket items like Apache helicopters and F-16 aircraft.
Kerry -- the most senior figure of the US administration to visit since Morsi's July 3 ouster -- said he had candid discussions with Fahmy, and he had other meetings later with interim president Adly Mansour and powerful military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
During his six-hour visit, he was also hosting an encounter with a broad cross section of civil society groups, including religious groups, human rights advocates, and youth and labour organisations.
The top US diplomat said Washington believed "the US-Egypt partnership will be strongest when Egypt is represented by a democratically elected government".
He condemned violence since Morsi's ouster, but said nothing about Morsi himself.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in Egypt as security forces engage in a sweeping crackdown against supporters of Morsi who have tried to stage near daily protests against the Islamist president's ouster.
Egypt vows return to civilian rule
Kerry also endorsed the interim government's moves to restore full democracy in Egypt, a key US ally in a volatile region.
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 perception," Kerry told reporters.
"We support you in this tremendous transformation that Egypt is undergoing. We know it's difficult. We want to help. We're prepared to do so."
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.
And he vowed that there would be a return to civilian government in his country.
The United States had for three decades supported Morsi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a popular uprising in 2011.
Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member who became Egypt's first democratically elected president, was toppled by the military after a single turbulent year in power that deeply polarised Egyptians.
Kerry's visit is the first stop on a packed 11-day trip which will also take in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bethlehem, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.
The timing was awkward however, coming on the eve of Morsi's trial, with 14 others, on charges of inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
Washington has called for Morsi's release and an end to politically motivated trials but has also stopped short of denouncing his ouster as a coup.
"Our hope is that we can make the progress we need, on democracy, the rights of people, the protections of people," said Kerry.