Kerry seeks political, economic consensus in Egypt

CAIRO (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on bickering Egyptian leaders and opposition politicians to forge a political consensus that will allow the country to emerge from economic crisis.

Kerry, on his first overseas trip as a member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet, was scheduled to meet Saturday with a number of opposition figures along with Egypt's foreign minister. He will see President Mohammed Morsi on Sunday.

U.S. officials said Kerry was particularly concerned that Egypt takes the reforms necessary to qualify for a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan package.

One official said it was extremely important for the new Egypt for there to be a firm economic foundation and that requires reaching agreement with the IMF. To get that Egypt must make reforms, like increasing tax collections and curbing energy subsidies.

Agreement with the IMF would also unlock significant U.S. assistance, including portions of the $1 billion that Obama pledged last April.

But getting the IMF deal will also be contingent on an end to the political chaos that has wracked the country since Morsi's election.

Kerry will press for all political players to come to a basic agreement on the country's direction ahead of parliamentary elections that begin in April, the official said.

Liberal and secular Egyptians have complained that Washington is siding with Morsi's ruling Muslim Brotherhood. The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, has said it would boycott the upcoming elections.

The U.S. official said Kerry would not tell the front what to do, but would stress that they should participate if they want their ideas and values heard and represented. At the same time, the official said Kerry would impress on Morsi the need for inclusiveness and tolerance.

Egypt has been locked in political crisis for months amid successive waves of protests against Morsi that have repeatedly turned into deadly clashes and rioting.

The opposition accuses the president and the Brotherhood, from which he hails, of dominating power in Egypt, effectively stepping in to the same role as ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak and failing to carry out reforms while seeking to instill a more religiously conservative system.

Morsi's administration and the Brotherhood, in turn, say their opponents are trying to use street unrest to overturn their rule.

Kerry's visit to Egypt is the sixth leg of a nine-nation dash through Europe and the Middle East. He travels next to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.