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Kerry says will decide shortly on resuming aid to Egypt

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the House Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington March 12, 2014. REUTERS/G
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the House Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington March 12, 2014. REUTERS/G

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday he will decide "in the days ahead" whether to resume U.S. aid to Egypt after suspending the funds last year over the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi and a crackdown against protesters.

While a new U.S. Congress spending bill unveiled in January restores more than $1.5 billion in military and economic aid to Egypt, a decision by Kerry is needed for the funds to flow again.

Washington has declined to declare Mursi's overthrow in July "a coup," but has expressed concerns over the iron-fisted crackdown on Islamists and liberals by the military-backed government in which hundreds have been killed and thousands jailed.

"It is our hope to be able to make that (aid) transfer, providing there is a conclusion drawn by our team with respect to some of the things we've been anticipating them doing," Kerry told a congressional hearing on the State Department's 2015 budget request.

"I am hopeful that in the days ahead I can make the appropriate decisions, and when I say days, I mean short term," he added.

Kerry said he had discussed the aid issue in a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy in Rome and talked by phone with Egypt's military chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is likely to declare his candidacy for president in a vote expected within months.

While the United States describes Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, as a vital partner, Kerry said it was important the country implements a roadmap for democracy and respects human rights.

"We want this interim transitional government to succeed," he said, "We are committed to try to help make that happen."

Asked whether the Obama administration would release the aid before Egypt's presidential elections, Kerry said: "I can't absolutely say with certainty, but it's our hope to be able to do that soon."

Egypt has been among the largest recipients of U.S. military and economic aid for decades because its 1979 peace treaty with U.S. ally Israel, which agreed as a result of the pact to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula it had seized from Egypt in 1967.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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