Muslim Brotherhood has seen a boost in public support since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February [AFP]
The United States will resume limited contacts with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, has said.
"We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful, and committed to non-violence," Clinton told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
Clinton's announcement reflects the Egyptian group's growing political weight after a popular uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned by the Egyptian government for decades, has seen a boost in public support since Mubarak's ouster.
While Clinton sought to portray the Obama administration's decision as a mere continuation of an earlier policy, it reflects a significant shift in that US officials will now be able to deal directly with Brotherhood officials who are not members of parliament.
US diplomats previously dealt only with parliamentary members of the Egyptian group, a policy that had been in place since 2006.
"Now in any of those contacts, prior or future, we will continue to emphasise the importance of and support for democratic principles and especially a commitment to non-violence, respect for minority rights, and the full inclusion of women in any democracy," Clinton said.
The decision is all but certain to upset Israel and its supporters in the US who have deep misgivings about the Brotherhood, a group founded in 1928 that seeks to promote its conservative vision of Islam in society.
Brotherhood welcomes 'US contacts'
In Cairo, Egypt's capital, the Muslim Brotherhood said it welcomed any formal contacts with the United States but said that no such contacts had yet been made yet.
"We welcome such relationships with everyone because those relations will lead to clarifying our vision. But it won't include or be based on any intervention in the internal affairs of the country," Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson, told the Reuters news agency.
"Until now no contacts have been made with the group or the party," Katatni said, who is also secretary-general of the Brotherhood's new Freedom and Justice political party.
"This relationship will clarify our general views and our opinion about different issues."
Egypt's parliamentary elections are scheduled for September and its transitional military rulers have promised to hold a presidential vote by the end of the year.