Top US official in talks with Muslim Brothers

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns meets with Islamist group at Cairo HQ.

Egyptian women walk past a Muslim Brotherhood poster 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
Egyptian women walk past a Muslim Brotherhood poster 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
The chief assistant to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met on Wednesday with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, Washington’s highest-level talks yet with the Islamist group that has dominated Egypt’s parliamentary elections.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that Burns had met with the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), along with several other party representatives, at its new headquarters in Cairo.
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“From our perspective, it was an opportunity to hear from them and to reinforce our expectation that all the major parties will support human rights, tolerance, rights of women and will also uphold Egypt’s existing international obligations,” she said.
Burns arrived in the Egyptian capital the day before and reportedly met with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Last summer, Washington modified a long-standing ban on formal contacts with the Brotherhood. The administration has said it would pursue “limited contacts” and “re-engagement” with the Brotherhood after the party took about 40 percent of votes in parliamentary elections that followed the February overthrow of longtime president Hosni Mubarak.
Jeffrey Feltman, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, has already met with the FJP’s deputy leader.
Burns did not meet on Wednesday with the hard-line Salafist Islamist party that came in second in parliamentary voting.
“He was not able to meet with all of the parties, so this was a selective group of some of them,” Nuland said, adding that the Salafists had not been invited.
“This was a chance to get to know some of the people that he wanted to get to know.”
Egypt’s staggered three-stage parliamentary election began on November 28 and drew an unprecedented turnout. The lower house will hold its first session on January 23.
Nuland said that Burns also met senior Egyptian officials to discuss recent government raids on US-backed non-governmental organizations that Washington has called “unacceptable.”
“He reaffirmed our strong support [for the groups],” Nuland said.
“He also pushed hard with the government to try to resolve the remaining problems and we do think we are making some headway, but we have not yet resolved all the issues.”
Reuters contributed to this report.