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DIPLOMACY

US Secretary of State Kerry tells Egyptians to stop squabbling

Top US diplomat says parties must pull together if country is to be helped out of economic crisis

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 5:13am

US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged bickering Egyptian political leaders to forge a consensus to pave the way for aid that could help lift their country out of its deep economic crisis.

During their two-hour plus meeting, Kerry and President Mohammed Mursi also talked about Middle East peace, Syria and Iran, as well as the economic, political and human rights situation in Egypt, according to a US State Department official.

"There must be a willingness on all sides to make meaningful compromises on the issues that matter most to the Egyptian people," Kerry said after initial talks with Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr in Cairo.

"We do believe that in this moment of economic challenge 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's visit comes with Egypt deeply divided between Mursi's mainly Islamist allies and a wide-ranging opposition that accuses Mursi of failing to address the country's economic needs and political concerns.

Kerry said he would discuss with Mursi ways in which the US could help Egypt recover from its economic crisis in further talks yesterday. "And I emphasise again, as strongly as I can, we're not here to interfere. I'm here to listen," Kerry said.

Meeting some of Egypt's business leaders, Kerry stressed the importance of a US$4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan, partly conditional on a measure of agreement between the nation's divided factions.

"It is paramount, essential, urgent that the Egyptian economy gets stronger, that it gets back on its feet," he said. "It is clear 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 reserve slide to a critical level and the Egyptian pound lose 8 per cent against the US dollar.

He said President Barack Obama would like to support the country through "economic assistance, support for private businesses, growing Egyptian exports to us".

On his first tour as the US top diplomat, Kerry met British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan before heading to Cairo.

As Kerry arrived from Turkey, protesters torched a police station in the canal city of Port Said, where civil unrest has continued for three weeks.

Protesters also stormed a police building in the Nile Delta city of Mansura, where overnight clashes left one person dead and dozens injured.

Kerry began the Cairo leg of his tour by meeting Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, before evening talks with Amr.

Outside the foreign ministry, dozens of protesters burned pictures of Kerry as they chanted against perceived US support for Mursi. But Kerry insisted the US was not backing 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."

The opposition criticises Washington for urging it to reconsider a boycott of upcoming parliamentary elections.

Egypt has been divided since Mursi issued a decree in November expanding his powers and paving the way for an Islamist-drafted constitution.

Mursi rescinded the decree but the turmoil continues.

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