"You can not have one foot in the camp of terror and another foot in the camp of politics," Condoleezza Rice said during a joint news conference with Ahmed Abul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister.

Rice was speaking on Tuesday during a visit to Egypt, on the first leg of a five-day tour of US regional allies aimed at mustering support for Washington's policies in the Middle East.

Hamas defeated the mainstream Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in last month's parliamentary elections and is expected to form the next Palestinian government.

Rice arrived in Egypt earlier on Tuesday. She is expected to meet Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and members of Egypt's civil society on Wednesday before flying to Riyadh.

Egypt is one of Washington's top allies in the troubled region and the second-largest recipient of US aid in the world after Israel.

But relations have been strained by recent political developments, and Washington has repeatedly expressed its displeasure at the pace of democratic reforms in Egypt.

US criticised

Before she arrived in Cairo, Egyptian newspapers blasted the United States for meddling in the country's internal affairs.

"You can not have one foot in the camp of terror and another foot in the camp of politics"

Condoleezza Rice, 
US secretary of state

Commentators lashed out at Rice for her reported criticism of the Mubarak government's failure to open up its rigid political system. Last week the US State Department was critical of the Mubarak government's decision to postpone upcoming local elections.

"Of course we were disappointed," Rice said at the time. "And the message that I will take to Egypt is that Egypt needs to stay on a democratic course."

Mohammed el-Shabah, editor of the independent Nahdat Masr newspaper, wrote: "What does Dr. Condoleezza Rice want from Egypt? Why does she ignite Egyptians' anger every time she visits Cairo? Is it a prudent diplomacy to attack a country before she visits it?"

In the government-owned Al Gomhoria newspaper, Abdellah Nassar wrote: "Every time Condoleezza Rice travels to the area she fires off statements, warnings and insinuations about democracy in the region.

"Egypt is capable of running its affairs. It does not need a mandate or pre-conditions."

Differences

The Mubarak government has
differences with Bush

The Mubarak government also indicated that its does not see an eye to eye with the Bush administration about many issues.

An Egyptian diplomatic source said that during talks with Rice, Egypt was expected to ask for Hamas to be given time, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency.

Egypt will also call for international cooperation on getting all sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to the negotiating table, the agency said.

Rice wants Arab governments to help isolate and financially strangle Hamas.