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Kerry Announces $250 Million in U.S. Aid for Egypt

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Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday that the United States would provide $250 million in assistance to Egypt after Egypt’s president promised to move ahead with negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over economic reforms.

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

The statement issued by Mr. Kerry noted that he and Mr. 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 aid.

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

American officials say that Mr. Kerry asserted that moving ahead with difficult economic changes in Egypt would require a degree of political consensus and was implicitly a promise of some political change.

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

Mr. 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.”

As an incentive for Mr. Morsi to conclude an agreement with the I.M.F., Mr. Kerry said that 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,” Mr. Kerry said. “I encouraged President Morsi to implement the homegrown reforms that will help his country secure an I.M.F. agreement, put Egypt on the path to establishing a firm economic foundation and allow it to chart its own course. He agreed and said that he plans to move quickly to do so.”

The I.M.F. wants Egypt to carry out a number of economic policy changes, including raising taxes and cutting energy subsidies, and it is seeking assurances that Mr. Morsi can rally the political support needed for those changes.

Mr. 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.

But the motorcade made it to the airport, and Mr. Kerry flew to Saudi Arabia, his seventh stop on his nine-nation trip. – NY Times

U.S. To Send Aid To Syria Rebels: Syria, Iran Accuse Washington Of ‘Double Standards’
Iran and Syria condemned a U.S. plan to assist rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad on Saturday and signaled the Syrian leader intends to stay in power at least until 2014 presidential elections.

The remarks came against the backdrop of a strategic victory for the regime as the military regained control over a string of villages along a key highway to open a potential supply route in Syria’s heavily contested north.
The army command boasted of the achievement in a statement, saying it had eradicated the remnants of “terrorist agents and mercenaries” in the area that links the government-controlled central city of Hama with Aleppo’s international airport.

The reversal of gains, confirmed by Syrian activists, has the potential to change the outcome of the battle in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city where government troops and rebels have been locked in a stalemate for months.

Syrian rebels have long complained that they are hampered by the world’s failure to provide heavier arms to help them battle Assad’s better-equipped military. The international community is reluctant to send weapons partly because of fears they may fall into the hands of extremists who have been gaining influence among the rebels.

But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Thursday that the Obama administration was giving an additional $60 million in assistance to Syria’s political opposition and would, for the first time, provide non-lethal aid directly to the rebels. – Full Read: HuffingtonPost

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