By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON, April 19 The International Monetary Fund and Egyptian finance officials are working to conclude talks "as quickly as feasible" on a proposed $4.8 billion loan deal to ease the country's deepening economic crisis, a senior IMF official said on Friday.
"I don't have a date for when those discussions will be completed precisely, but Egyptian authorities and our own team are working diligently to try to bring that set of discussions to a conclusion as quickly as feasible," IMF Director for the Middle East and North Africa Masood Ahmed told reporters.
The talks are taking place on the sidelines of IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington.
"Those discussions are both to make sure we have a complete and full set of data to start with. The authorities are making sure the data they have is the most recent and we will look at that," Ahmed said.
"Also, we are working together with them to make sure the program will address the challenges that face Egypt and that will do so in a way that will protect the more vulnerable parts of society, and that it will unleash what we all believe to be the considerable economic potential of Egypt," he added.
An IMF deal will help shore up confidence in Egypt's economy and reassure private investors and donors that the country is committed to economic reforms, which include cutting fuel subsidies and raising sales taxes.
Egypt has suffered two years of political instability since a 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Qatar and Libya recently stepped in to provide loans to Egypt. Russia agreed on Friday to consider giving Egypt a substantial loan and more grain supplies, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin said without elaborating.
"It is a financing need that Egypt faces for the next 12, 18, 24 months and any financing that is provided is very helpful in meeting that need," Ahmed said, adding that the Egyptian authorities are committed to a loan deal with the IMF.
Ahmed said a recovery in private investment in Egypt will be the main driver of economic growth in the coming year and will help ease high unemployment levels.