CAIRO - US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday his country is committed to working with Egypt’s interim rulers, on his first visit to Cairo since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

On the eve of the opening of Morsi’s trial, Kerry was in Cairo to shore up ties with a key ally and ensure it moves ahead on plans to restore democracy, just weeks after Washington partly suspended aid to Egypt. “We are committed to work with and we will continue our cooperation with the interim government,” Kerry told a joint news conference with Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy, urging “inclusive, free and fair elections”.

“The United States is a friend of the people of Egypt, of the country of Egypt, and we are a partner,” he stressed.

Kerry also played down Washington’s suspension of part of its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Cairo, denying the decision had been taken to punish Egypt’s military leaders and saying it “is a very small issue between us”.

“US-Egyptian relations should not be defined by assistance,” Kerry said, adding direct aid would continue to help Egyptians in areas such as health and education and to aid “counter terrorism” efforts.

In a move that angered Cairo, Washington last month said it was “recalibrating” its aid to Egypt - including about $1.3 billion for military assistance - and suspending delivery of big-ticket items like Apache helicopters and F-16 aircraft.

Kerry - the most senior figure of the US administration to visit since Morsi’s July 3 ouster - said he had candid discussions with Fahmy, and he had other meetings later with interim president Adly Mansour and powerful military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. During his six-hour visit, he was also hosting an encounter with a broad cross section of civil society groups, including religious groups, human rights advocates, and youth and labour organisations. The top US diplomat said Washington believed “the US-Egypt partnership will be strongest when Egypt is represented by a democratically elected government”. He condemned violence since Morsi’s ouster, but said nothing about Morsi himself.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Egypt as security forces engage in a sweeping crackdown against supporters of Morsi who have tried to stage near daily protests against the Islamist president’s ouster. Kerry also endorsed the interim government’s moves to restore full democracy in Egypt, a key US ally in a volatile region.

According to the interim government’s timetable, parliamentary elections are to be held by mid-2014 followed by presidential polls. “The roadmap is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Kerry told reporters.

“We support you in this tremendous transformation that Egypt is undergoing. We know it’s difficult. We want to help. We’re prepared to do so.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has accused Egypt’s military-installed authorities of failing to investigate the killing of protesters by the security forces, mainly on October 6, when deadly clashes rocked Cairo.

The New-York based group on Saturday charged that three weeks since police used lethal force to break up protests of supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, the authorities have not yet questioned or said they intend to question security forces about their use of firearms on that day.

“In dealing with protest after protest, Egyptian security forces escalate quickly and without warning to live ammunition, with deadly results,” HRW’s Joe Stork said in a statement.

On October 6, at least 57 people were killed nationwide, but mostly in Cairo, when security forces cracked down on supporters of Morsi who were trying to march towards the iconic Tahrir Square where backers of the military were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war.

The clashes were the deadliest since the storming by security forces of two pro-Morsi camps in Cairo on August 14 in which hundreds were killed.

Stork said 1,300 people have died in Egypt since July.

“What will it take for the authorities to rein in security forces or even set up a fact-finding committee into their use of deadly force?” he asked.

HRW said that throughout the past three months, the authorities had not yet established a fact-finding committee or attempted to rein in security forces.

But when it came to violence by protesters, prosecutors have arrested, investigated and prosecuted them for assault and use of violence, the watchdog said.