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John Kerry, Egypt link US aid to economic talks

Secretary of State John Kerry met with a series of Egyptian leaders, including President Mohammed Morsi.

KHALED ELFIQI/EPA

Secretary of State John Kerry met with a series of Egyptian leaders, including President Mohammed Morsi.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday the United States would provide $250 million in assistance to Egypt after its president promised to complete negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over economic reforms.

In a statement issued after his two-hour meeting with President Mohammed Morsi, Kerry said the aid decision reflected Egypt’s ‘‘extreme needs’’ and Morsi’s assurance that Egypt would reach an agreement with the IMF after more than a year of talks over a $4.8 billion loan package.

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The statement issued by Kerry noted that he and Morsi had discussed the need to ensure the fairness of Egypt’s coming elections, but it did not mention any specific political commitments the Egyptian president had made to receive the funds.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to begin in April. Some opposition groups have said they will boycott the vote because of what they see as an effort by Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement to dominate Egyptian politics.

US officials say Kerry asserted that moving ahead with difficult economic changes in Egypt would require a degree of political consensus.

The aid announced Sunday consists of two parts. One is a $190 million infusion for Egypt’s budget intended to address what Kerry said was the country’s ‘‘extreme needs.’’ That assistance has already been approved by Congress.

Kerry also pledged $60 million for the creation of a fund to support small businesses, which will provide ‘‘direct support to key engines of democratic change in Egypt, including Egypt’s entrepreneurs and its young people.’’

‘The brave Egyptians who stood vigil in Tahrir Square did not risk their lives to see that opportunity for a brighter future squandered.’

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As an incentive for Morsi to conclude an agreement with the IMF, Kerry said he would work with Congress to get additional funds approved for Egypt once a deal was reached.

In May 2011, President Obama pledged $1 billion to support Egypt’s democratic revolution. The $190 million in aid announced on Sunday is the first disbursement of that pledge.

‘‘In all my meetings, I conveyed a simple but serious message: The brave Egyptians who stood vigil in Tahrir Square did not risk their lives to see that opportunity for a brighter future squandered,’’ Kerry said.

‘‘I encouraged President Morsi to implement the homegrown reforms that will help his country secure an IMF agreement, put Egypt on the path to establishing a firm economic foundation and allow it to chart its own course,’’ Kerry said. “He agreed and said that he plans to move quickly to do so.’’

The IMF wants Egypt to enact several economic policy changes, including raising taxes and cutting energy subsidies, and it is seeking assurances that Morsi can rally the political support needed for those changes.

Kerry’s departure from Cairo was briefly delayed, news agencies said, because hundreds of supporters of the soccer club Al Ahly, known as ultras, blocked the road to the airport in a protest related to a court case about a soccer riot in Port Said last year.

Kerry next flew to Saudi Arabia, his seventh stop on his nine-nation trip. Kerry will also travel to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where his focus is expected to be the crises in Syria and Iran.

Kerry, on his first overseas trip as secretary of state, is set to return to Washington on Wednesday.

In a separate development Sunday, the Egyptian military has intervened in clashes between thousands of protesters and police in Port Said.

About 5,000 protesters threw rocks and firebombs at police in Port Said, the scene of a civil strike now in its second week. Riot police responded with tear gas and bird shot.

A health official says more than 300 people were injured in the clashes, most from tear gas inhalation.

Also on Sunday, Egypt’s state news agency said the retrial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak on charges related to the killings of protesters during the uprising against him will begin April 13.

Mubarak and his former interior minister were sentenced to life in prison in June for failing to prevent the killing of protesters during the 18-day revolution in 2011 that ended his 29-year rule.

In January, an appeals court overturned the sentences and ordered a retrial.

In a statement recapping his meetings with Egyptian political figures, business leaders, and representatives of outside groups, Kerry said he heard of their ‘‘deep concern about the political course of their country, the need to strengthen human rights protections, justice, and the rule of law, and their fundamental anxiety about the economic future of Egypt.’’

Those issues came up in ‘‘a very candid and constructive manner’’ during talks with Morsi, according to Kerry’s statement, which was reported by the Associated Press.

‘‘It is clear that more hard work and compromise will be required to restore unity, political stability, and economic health to Egypt,’’ he said.

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