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August 3, 2013

U.S. diplomat in Egypt holds talks with rival sides

CAIRO — Egypt’s Interior Ministry warned supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi on Saturday for a second time to abandon their protest camps as a senior U.S. diplomat met with officials on both sides of the country’s political divide.  

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns extended his visit to Cairo by one day so he could meet military leader Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi and the country’s prime minister on Sunday, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said. A member of the pro-Morsi delegation that met Saturday with Burns said the four delegates also would meet again with the U.S. diplomat on Sunday for more talks.

At the core of talks is the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies following the July 3 coup that ousted Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president. The military coup, which followed several days of mass protests by millions of Egyptians demanding his ouster, also led to the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated parliament and the suspension of an Islamist-drafted constitution.

The Brotherhood says it is looking for concessions before beginning talks with their rivals. Such measures could include releasing detained Brotherhood leaders, unfreezing the group’s assets, lifting a ban on its television stations and reigning in the use of force against its protesters.

Tarek el-Malt, who met with Burns and is a member of the Brotherhood-allied Wasat Party, said the delegation insisted that any initiatives for a way out of the crisis must center on the 2012 constitution being restored.

“Morsi would return to power in all cases,” he told The Associated Press. “Whether he spends his full term in office or delegates his power to a national Cabinet is up for discussion.”

However, Burns and others have signaled that the West has moved on from Morsi’s presidency. Washington and others are foremost seeking stability in the Arab world’s most populous nation, and have called for the Brotherhood’s participation in the transition as a way to achieve national reconciliation.

The trip by Burns, his second to Cairo since the coup, comes amid heighted fears of more bloodshed after more than 80 Morsi supporters were killed in clashes with police a week ago. More than 280 people have been killed nationwide in political violence since Morsi’s removal.

America’s No. 2 diplomat also held talks Saturday with interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour and Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, as did the European Union’s special envoy, Bernardino Leon.

Nevine Malak, who attended the same meeting with Burns as el-Malt as part of a delegation representing those against the coup, said the session was mainly for “listening.” She said the group, which includes two members of the Brotherhood’s political wing, would meet Burns again on Sunday.

“Any solution or any initiative must include the return of the (suspended) constitution,” she told the AP. “We don’t ignore the fact that there were masses that took to the streets, but we don’t ignore either that what happened was a coup against legitimacy.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy also met Burns and said Egyptian officials have made clear to their Western counterparts “there is no moving back.” Fahmy also said the transitional roadmap adopted by the country’s military-backed interim leaders is open to the Brotherhood for participation.

“There have been contacts between different figures, be they in government directly or indirectly, and those among the Brotherhood’s leaders,” Fahmy told journalists. He declined to describe those discussions as “negotiations.”

Fahmy, who served as Cairo’s ambassador to Washington under autocrat Hosni Mubarak, also said that key to the U.S. is “their interests in the region.”

“I think they do that by assessing who’s in power, who’s not in power ... and how to deal with that situation given what their interests are,” he said.

While Egyptian authorities say the political sphere is open to Morsi’s allies, they are simultaneously outlining plans to break up the two main sit-ins where thousands of protesters still rally daily for Morsi’s return to power. Authorities plan to set up a cordon around the sites while offering “safe passage” to those willing to leave.

In televised remarks Saturday, Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel-Latif urged Morsi’s supporters to end their protests, saying it would help the Brotherhood’s return to Egypt’s political process. He repeated the offer from the ministry, which is in charge of police, to give a safe exit to those who abandon the sit-ins.

Meanwhile, Al-Qaida’s leader Ayman al-Zawahri condemned Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in a message for having “tried its best to satisfy America and the secularists.” He said that democracy is allowed only for those who agree to “be a slave for the West’s ideology, action, policy and economy.” The message’s authenticity could not be independently confirmed but was posted on a militant website late Friday commonly used by al-Qaida.

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