EU playing 'facilitator' role in Egypt

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The European Union is playing a mediation role in helping to restore civilian rule in Egypt where it is an important source of foreign aid, a senior EU official said Tuesday.

“We have already played a very important role as facilitator in Egypt and we will continue to do that,” said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton.

Ashton, on her second visit to Egypt this month, met ousted president Mohammed Mursi at an undisclosed location in the early hours of Tuesday.

She was the first person officially allowed to meet Mursi since his July 3 ouster by the army.

Ashton was “shuttling” between the parties to press her message for a peaceful, all-inclusive transition back to civilian rule in the Arab world’s most populous country, Mann said.

“It is an important role because everybody is ready to talk to us ... it is not because of the pressure of one country or another, it’s because we can play this role.”

Ashton has been in constant contact with other interested parties and has spoken several times with US Secretary of State John Kerry, he added.

Asked what levers the EU could use in Egypt, Mann said Brussels was a major supplier of aid to Cairo, put at 450 million euros ($600 million) for 2011-13, which was conditional.

“That does not mean that there is direct pressure but... in recent months we have not given much aid given the lack of political progress,” Mann added.

Earlier this month, Washington said it was delaying plans to supply four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.

At the same time, the U.S. government has refused to describe Mursi’s ouster as a coup, a move which would trigger the freezing of some $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

Mursi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the region’s largest and best organized Islamist movements, which won power in the country’s first elections after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011 despite years of U.S. backing.

Ashton said in Cairo that Mursi was in good health and that the two had “friendly, open and very frank” talks that lasted two hours.

Ashton arrived in Cairo late Sunday for a series of meetings with Egyptian government officials, including the head of the military, and opposition representatives after the deaths of 82 people at a pro-Mursi rally in Cairo on Saturday.

She has repeatedly urged an end to the bloodshed and a political transition that would include the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ashton said Tuesday she was not in Egypt to push her own initiative but to seek common ground between the opposing sides.

“The solutions are for the Egyptian people,” she said.