U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sent a historic message in meeting with Egypt’s newly-elected Islamist president, according to State Department officials.
During the meeting, Clinton stressed that “the United States supports the full transition to civilian rule, with all that it entails,” CNN relates.
“Civilian rule” in this case seemingly refers to President Morsi’s Islamist party, which has been locked in a power struggle with the country’s generals since the election.
Clinton reportedly added that she looks forward to working “to support the military’s return to a purely national security role,” but refrained from calling for any sort of action. According to Clinton, resolving the impasse “requires dialogue and compromise, real politics.”
The United States is doing all it can to “support the democratically elected government and to help make it a success in delivering results for the people of Egypt,” Clinton declared.
The New York Times writes:
Implausibly, some of the Brotherhood’s secular opponents have even accused the United States of conspiring with the Islamists to push them to power. By nightfall Saturday, hundreds of protesters had gathered outside Mrs. Clinton’s hotel to protest against the claimed conspiracy. Using a transliteration of the Arabic word for the Brotherhood, one sign read: “If you like the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood], take them with you!”
The meeting at the presidential palace kicked off a series of high-level sessions aimed at stabilizing Egypt’s fledgling democracy and its alliance with the United States, once rock-solid but now increasingly shaky.
“Things change (at) kind of warp speed,” Clinton told Morsi as they began their meeting.
Clinton and Morsi didn’t shake hands, at least when they first appeared before reporters – a subject of much speculation because of Morsi’s Muslim faith. But the president shook hands with Clinton and the entire U.S. delegation behind closed doors, according to a U.S. official.
The president, speaking in English, said, “We are very, very keen to meet you and happy that you are here.” Clinton and Morsi were seated perpendicular to one another, the American on a sofa and the Egyptian on a chair.
Appearing at a news conference alongside Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr, Clinton said it was up to Egyptians to determine their future.
Walking a fine line, she stressed American financial and political support for Egypt’s new government while also praising Egypt’s military council for its interim leadership.
The New York Times relates:
Despite open channels of communication, Brotherhood leaders have repeatedly surprised Washington with their brisk moves to challenge the generals: running for and winning more parliamentary seats than they said they would, breaking a pledge not to run a presidential candidate, and then last week using a presidential decree to call back the Parliament in defiance of the generals’ order dissolving it.
State Department officials said the pattern has only increased a residual distrust of the Islamists that it is already hard for the United States policy makers to overcome.
“Every bone in the body of the U.S. foreign policy establishment is going to feel more comfortable with the idea that there is still a strong military looking over these guys,” said Mr. Mandaville, the former State Department adviser, “and looking out for U.S. interests in Egypt and the region.”
The message speaks to Washington’s broader effort to build a new relationship with Egypt after three decades of close cooperation with Mubarak despite his criticized record on democracy and human rights.
This has involved some uncomfortable changes for the U.S., including occasionally harsh criticism of once faithful partners in the Egyptian military and words of support for Islamist parties far more skeptical of the U.S. agenda for the Middle East.
“We believe America’s shared strategic interests with Egypt far outnumber our differences,” Clinton said, seemingly attempting to make peace with both the generals and the Islamists.
Asked if she regretted the close partnership successive U.S. governments had with Mubarak despite his suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and even imprisonment of Morsi, 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.”
In her discussions with Morsi, Clinton emphasized the need for Egypt to adhere to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, while also seeking continued counterterrorism cooperation and offering U.S. support to help Cairo regain control of the increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula – a major security concern for Israel.
For Egypt’s sake, Clinton pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in debt relief, private investment capital and job creation funds – money the Obama administration has outlined previously. She told Morsi she would send a large business delegation to Cairo in September to strengthen U.S.-Egyptian economic ties.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.