Jake Sullivan, the director of policy planning at the US state department, speaks about engagement in the region.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has held talks with Egypt’s top military leaders in Cairo, after calling for them to help smooth the country’s full transition to democracy.
The top US diplomat met Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), on Sunday, a day after arriving in Egypt amid a complex power struggle being played out between the army and newly-elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
“They discussed the political transition and the SCAF’s ongoing dialogue with President Morsi,” a state department official told reporters after the talks that lasted just over an hour.
The two also discussed an economic package proposed by Clinton and “Tantawi stressed that this is what Egyptians need most now, help getting the economy back on track,” the official said.
Clinton has repeatedly called on the military to respect the outcome of the elections and told a news conference her talks with Tantawi would focus on “working to support the military’s return to a purely national security role”.
Tantawi was the country’s interim military ruler after president Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year ending three decades in power. The SCAF ran Egypt’s affairs after Mubarak’s ouster and is in a political struggle with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood over how to direct the transition.
Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, ordered parliament to reconvene, defying an army decision to disband the house.
But a declaration issued by the SCAF before Morsi was sworn in – which acts as a temporary constitution – granted the military sweeping powers, including legislative control, even though they handed over to Morsi on June 30.
Clinton’s discussions with Morsi on Saturday focused on the domestic political deadlock and economic development. She pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in debt relief, private investment and job creation funds – money the US administration had earlier promised.
Clinton said her country’s “shared strategic interests far outnumber our differences” with Egypt.
“I have come to Cairo to re-affirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and their democratic transition,” Clinton said at a joint news conference with Mohammed Amr, the foreign minister.
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“We want to be a good partner and we want to support the democracy that has been achieved by the courage and sacrifice of the Egyptian people,” she said. “Democracy is hard.”
Steven Cook, a Middle East analyst, told Al Jazeera that Clinton was in a difficult situation.
“What the secretary of state clearly wants to do is demonstrate Washington’s support for a full democratic transition in Egypt. But of course she has to walk a tight line here,” he said,
“The SCAF remains very much in control; immediately after the elections the generals gutted the power of the president. So she has to deal with both the head of state, as Mohamed Morsi is, and the power brokers behind the scenes.
“What the secretary of state is going to try to do is encourage the president and the field marshall to try and come to some sort of agreement about the direction of this transition. But of course the US has very little leverage here when it comes to either President Morsi or Field Marshall Tantawi,” Cook said.
On Sunday, Clinton will also focus on the protection of religious minorities and of women, and was meeting later in the day with women activists and Coptic leaders.
She will also see other senior government officials, civil society and business leaders in Cairo, as well as in the country’s second city, Alexandria.
Clinton unveiled plans for $250m in loan guarantees to Egyptian small and medium-sized businesses, as well as setting up a US-Egypt enterprise fund with some $60m in capital.
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The US has been allied with Egypt since the country signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and supplies $1.5bn every year in aid, most of which goes to the military.
Only occasionally did successive US governments speak out on human rights abuses under Mubarak’s government, which included restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly and the oppression of the Brotherhood.
Morsi himself was jailed during the 18-day uprising that overthrew Mubarak.
Asked if she regretted the close partnership with Mubarak, on Saturday Clinton said Washington by necessity worked with the government of the time.
She insisted, however, that “we were consistent in promoting human rights and speaking out for an end of the emergency law, and end to political prisoners being detained”.
It is Clinton’s second visit to the Arab world’s most populous nation since the uprising. Earlier this week, she urged dialogue between all parties in the ongoing constitutional dispute.
A large and vocal crowd massed outside the hotel where Clinton was staying in Cairo, chanting and carrying anti-American signs.
Clinton is on a regional visit and will travel to Israel next, where she is expected to meet with top officials.