By Jill Dougherty and Joe Sterling
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to reporters in Egypt on Saturday, said "there must be a willingness on all sides" in Egypt to make "meaningful compromises on the issues that matter most to all of the Egyptian people."
And, Kerry said, Egyptians must stay focused on economic and political opportunities to succeed in forging a successful democracy. The United States wants to help all it can but not interfere in Egypt's affairs.
"We come here as friends," Kerry said - not as proponents of a particular group, person or ideology.
His Cairo visit - a stop on his first overseas trip since he became secretary - comes as Egypt has been engulfed in political unrest for months and ahead of parliamentary elections in April.
The Obama administration has been stressing to President Mohamed Morsy and other political figures the importance of political consensus, an elusive goal at present. Morsy, a longtime top figure in the Muslim Brotherhood before he became president, is unpopular among a large segment of the population.
Kerry met with Amre Moussa and Nabil El Araby, the former and current heads of the Arab League. He met with opposition leaders on Saturday, but state news said opposition figures Hamdeen Sabahy and Mohamed ElBaradei decided not to meet with Kerry. ElBaradei spoke with Kerry by phone, according to a senior State Department official.
Kerry put a positive foot forward in describing opposition politicians, praising their "extraordinary passion."
Speaking at a meeting with business leaders, Kerry said it is "paramount, essential, urgent that the Egyptian economy get stronger, that it get back on its feet."
Kerry said that there needs to be a sense of security and an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to help jump-start the economy.. He said he spoke with the leaders of Great Britain, France, Germany and Turkey and all want to be helpful "but all of them believe Egypt must make some fundamental economic choices."
Necessary reforms for Egypt include increasing tax revenue and reducing energy subsidies, U.S. officials say. But in order to carry out the kind of reforms required for getting International Monetary Fund money, the official says, "there has to be a basic political agreement among all of the various players in Egypt."
At his press conference, Kerry stressed "vibrant democracy" stimulates business and wide political participation. As for the issue of human rights, a major concern in Egypt, he said "the best way to ensure human rights" in the country is through the "broadest possible" political and economic participation.
Kerry said he will meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations, as well as Morsy on Sunday.
In his visit with Morsy, he will broach "very specific ways" in which Obama wants to help Egypt, including economic assistance, support for private business, increasing Egyptian exports to the United States and investing in education.
Kerry told reporters he appreciated Morsy's role in helping bring about a cease-fire between Israel and militants in Gaza in fighting there last year.
Before Kerry met with Foreign Ministry Mohamed Kamel Amr, a small protest broke out in Cairo.
Dozens of people in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set on fire pictures of Kerry, according to the state-run MENA news outlet.
Other protesters laid on the ground at the front gate of the ministry. Some formed a human chain on a bridge leading to the ministry and held banners rejecting Kerry's visit to Egypt.
The demonstration caused congestion with many cars backed up on Corniche Nile Road. The protesters chanted anti-U.S. and anti-Israel slogans.