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Kerry In Cairo On First Visit Since Morsi Ouster

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (file photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (file photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Cairo on his first trip to Egypt since the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in July.

Kerry said at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy on November 3 that Washington was committed to working with Egypt's interim rulers.

He urged Egyptians to continue their "march to democracy," saying that only democracy would ultimately take Egypt to stability and economic prosperity.

Kerry's arrival came one day before Morsi goes on trial on charges of inciting the murder of protesters in December 2012 outside Egypt's presidential palace.

As Kerry was speaking to reporters, supporters and opponents of Morsi clashed at a major Islamic university in Cairo. The violence erupted when pro-Morsi students protesting at Al-Azhar University against the Islamist leader's trial encountered a rival demonstration by students who support Egypt's military.

Kerry condemned all violence in Egypt since Morsi's ouster but said nothing about Morsi himself or his upcoming trial.

Kerry also downplayed the suspension of U.S. aid to Egypt, saying relations shouldn't be defined by assistance.

"Of course we understood that the decision with respect to some aid, which has been held back for a period of time -- we knew that in some places obviously that wouldn't be well-received," Kerry said. "But it's not a punishment. It's a reflection of a policy in the United States under our law. We have a law passed by the United States Congress regarding how certain events unfold with respect to the change of a government in a country. And we are bound by that."

Washington recently froze some of its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt over violence against Morsi supporters and the lack of democratic reforms by the country's military rulers.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Egypt on security services' crackdown on Morsi supporters staging protests against the overthrow of the democratically elected president.

Kerry acknowledged that Egypt was going through a "difficult time." He called for an end to all violence in the country.

Kerry said the future of Egypt's bilateral relations depended on the country's economic transition.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Fahmy said Kerry's remarks and the interim leaders' "roadmap" -- which sets out constitutional reforms and elections by spring 2014 -- indicate that Washington and Cario are "pursuing a resumption of normal relations."

"I have mentioned a few days ago that the U.S.-Egyptian relations are witnessing some tension," Fahmy said. "But today after my discussions with [U.S.] Secretary [of State John Kerry] behind closed doors, I believe that the U.S. support for Egypt and its road map are all very positive indications. We both seek to resume our relations in a positive manner. Also, the fact that Kerry mentioned about the launch of the strategic dialogue between the two countries is also a very positive development."

Kerry also reportedly had closed-door meetings with members of Egypt's civil society.

The U.S. State Department refused to confirm Kerry's visit until he landed in Cairo. Egypt's state media had reported the impending trip several days earlier.

Kerry's current nine-day tour of the Mideast and northern Africa also is scheduled to include trips to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, and Algeria.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and BBC