US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Cairo to meet Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in what is the highest-level American outreach to the new leader since he took office.  

Kerry's visit on Sunday was part of American attempts to thaw relations with Egypt that cooled over concerns Cairo has conducted sham trials, imprisoned journalists and violently cracked down on political opponents.

"Obviously this is a critical moment of transition in Egypt, enormous challenges,'' Kerry said at the start of a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Kerry said the US hopes to work closely with Sisi despite what he called "issues of concern."

Shoukry said he looked forward to a "fruitful discussion."

US officials said they hoped Egypt's weak economy and shaky security would prompt Sisi to embrace more moderate policies.

Sisi took control of the government in July of last year after ousting a democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and his Muslim Brotherhood group from power.

Since then, Cairo has outlawed the Brotherhood and sentenced hundreds of its members and other anti-government protesters to death in trials that lasted only a few hours.

Washington refrained from calling the change of government a coup, an assessment that would have forced it under US law to stop providing Egypt with billions in annual aid.

Last May, Sisi won a landslide victory in a presidential election. He was sworn into office on June 8.

During Kerry's visit, part of a tour of countries in the Middle East and Europe, he will also discuss possible oil supply disruptions due to the conflict in Iraq, a senior US State department official said.

Sunni fighters in Iraq have seized a border post on the Iraq-Syria frontier, smashing a line drawn by colonial powers a century ago in the group's campaign to create an Islamic state from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran.

The fighting, with strong sectarian overtones, is pushing the country towards civil war. Iraq's largest refinery, Baiji, 200-km north of the capital near Tikrit, has been transformed into a battlefield.

The official said discussions would be about the "possible impact of the Iraq situation" on global oil supply.

Source: Agencies