A top US official traveled to Cairo Sunday for talks with the nation’s interim and military leaders, the first high-ranking administration member to visit Egypt since Mohamed Morsi was ousted.
Under Secretary of State Bill Burns will visit Egypt from Sunday to Tuesday, the State Department said, adding he would “underscore US support for the Egyptian people.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Burns would meet “with a wide range of Egyptians, including the civilian transitional government, the Egyptian Armed Forces, political party representatives, religious leaders, civil society activists, and the business community.”
He wanted to hear directly from Egyptian leaders and the civil society “as part of our ongoing efforts to see Egypt transition to an inclusive, pluralistic, democratically-elected civilian government,” she added.
Burns would also discuss the transition roadmap and the “the need to transition to a democratically-elected government as soon as possible, and the immediate need for all political leaders to work to prevent violence and incitement.”
The news of Burns’s visit came as caretaker premier Hazem al-Beblawi resumed talks on forming his cabinet, 11 days after Morsi was ousted in a July 3 military coup amid massive protests against his year-long rule.
Prominent liberal leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who assisted in the talks Beblawi began a day earlier with ministerial candidates, was sworn in as interim vice president for foreign relations on Sunday, the Egyptian presidency said.
On Friday, the United States for the first time called for Morsi’s release, and again condemned a wave of arbitrary arrests of members of his Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which won last year’s elections, and the ultra-conservative Islamist party Al-Nur have both refused to join the caretaker government.
Beblawi also appointed a former ambassador to Washington, Nabil Fahmy, as foreign minister, and veteran World Bank economist Ahmed
Since the July 3 ouster, Washington has struggled to define whether Egypt’s first democratically elected president was the victim of a coup, which would legally force a freeze on some $1.5 billion in vital military and economic US assistance to Cairo.
Two influential Republican US lawmakers, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator John McCain, Sunday urged the administration to cut off the aid in response to the coup.
“Egypt is not just any country. It is the heart and soul of the Arab world, and the stability of Egypt is a critical US national interest,” the Republican lawmakers wrote in the Washington Post.
“We must recognize, as President (Barack) Obama said, that ‘the best foundation for lasting stability in Egypt is a democratic political order with participation from all sides and all political parties — secular and religious, civilian and military.'”
“That is all the more reason suspending US assistance to Egypt is both right and necessary,” they said.
Washington has insisted it is not taking sides in Egypt’s political turmoil, and that its role is to help return a key regional ally to a democratically elected civilian government.
Egypt is one of only two Arab nations with a peace treaty with Israel, and its military also guards the strategic Suez Canal.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday reached out to several key leaders in the region, urging them to use their influence in Egypt to press each side in the political standoff to avoid violence and to hasten the return of a democratic government.
Last week the United States said it was “cautiously encouraged” by the timeline presented by the interim rulers for elections to replace Morsi.
The transition plan, set up by Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour, would see fresh parliamentary elections in the coming months, with a presidential vote possible by early next year.
During the 12 months of Morsi’s rule, Washington was increasingly frustrated by the Islamist leader’s failure to institute an inclusive government meeting the demands of Egyptians who led the 2011 revolution to end three decades of autocratic rule by Hosni Mubarak.
But it was caught in a dilemma, wishing also to support the nation’s first democratically elected leader.