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By Reuters

CAIRO — The United States and Egypt are returning to a "stronger base" in their relationship despite tensions and concerns over human rights, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday at the first strategic dialogue between the two sides since 2009.

U.S.-Egyptian relations cooled considerably after Islamist president Mohammed Morsi was ousted in 2013 by the military amid mass protests against his rule.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told a joint news conference with Kerry in Cairo that his country had no major disagreements with the United States but that there were "differences in points of view over some issues, which is natural."

Despite U.S. concerns about Egypt's lagging democratic reforms, Cairo remains one of its closest security allies in the Middle East, an increasingly crucial role in a region beset by turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

Cairo and Washington said they had agreed to explore opportunities to expand a security relationship. Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted a hold on a supply of arms to Cairo, authorizing deliveries of U.S. weapons valued at over $1.3 billion.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri shake hands at a press conference after their meeting.Brendan Smialowski / AP

Kerry also said he and Shukri had agreed on the importance of ensuring "free, fair and transparent" parliamentary elections due by the end of the year after long delays.

While Washington has prized former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led Morsi's overthrow and was elected to succeed him, for the stability he has brought to Egypt, it has also cautiously criticized Egypt's human rights record and a crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptian government says the Brotherhood is a threat to national security and denies all allegations of abuse, but its crackdown has extended to liberal activists and journalists.

Related: Egypt President El-Sissi Refuses Pardon for Al-Jazeera Journalists

A Cairo court on Sunday postponed giving its verdict in the retrial of Al Jazeera television journalists accused of aiding a terrorist organization, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Shukri said no journalists in Egypt were in jail over their reporting. A prison census conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists on June 1 which found at least 18 Egyptian journalists were being held in jail for reasons related to their reporting.

A government source at the time said that the numbers were not accurate.