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Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood hails ties with U.S.

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The head of the political arm of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday hailed U.S.-Egyptian ties during talks with the U.S. State Department’s number two, but also said they must be “balanced.”

The meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the Cairo headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) came as marathon elections that propelled Islamists to Egypt’s center stage wrapped up.

Washington has reached out to the Brotherhood in a nod to the country’s new political reality, with Islamists poised to dominate the first parliament since a popular uprising ousted veteran president Hosni Mubarak in February.

FJP head Mohammed Mursi said his party “believes in the importance of U.S.-Egyptian relations,” but stressed that ties between the two nations “must be balanced,” a statement issued after the talks said.

Mursi “welcomed” Burns’s visit and “asked that the United States review its policies... in line with the (aspirations) of the Arab Spring” uprisings that brought down autocratic regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

He also called on Washington to adopt a “positive position concerning Arab and Muslim causes,” saying its policies in the past were “biased and not in its interest.”

According to the FJP statement Burns “congratulated the party on the results it achieved” in the parliamentary election, and said Washington was “ready to help the Egyptian economy to overcome the current crisis.”

The United States “respects the choice of the Egyptian people,” it quoted Burns as saying.

Burns said his visit was aimed at learning the party’s views on different issues, particularly the economy and politics in Egypt and the region, the statement said.

The U.S. official also noted that President Barack Obama is keen on backing an economic program to boost investments in Egypt, it added.

FJP spokesman Ahmed Sobea had told AFP that the talks would be “the highest-level meeting with any official from the United States.”

Burns arrived also met Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which took power when Mubarak was ousted.

He is also expected to meet other officials, political and business leaders as well as activists.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said before the polls that the United States had pursued “limited contacts” with the Brotherhood as Washington was “re-engaging in” a six-year-old policy in light of Egypt’s political changes.

FJP deputy head Essam al-Erian met Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, during a recent visit to Cairo, Sobea said.

Wednesday’s meeting comes as Egyptians voted in the final phase of staggered elections to elect a lower house of parliament. Polls closed at 1700 GMT.

Egypt’s two main Islamist parties have scored a crushing victory in the seats declared so far, reflecting a regional trend since Arab Spring uprisings overthrew authoritarian secular regimes.

The FJP has claimed the lead − securing more than 35 percent of votes for party lists − closely followed by al-Nour party, which represents the ultra-conservative brand of Salafi Islam.

Burns was not expected to meet al-Nour representatives, a party spokesman told AFP.

The Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organized political movement, was widely expected to triumph in the polls through the FJP.

But the surge by al-Nour and the high visibility of Salafi movements have raised fears among increasingly marginalized liberals about civil liberties and religious freedom.

The SCAF has repeatedly pointed to the elections as proof of its intention to hand the reins to a civilian government.

But the vote has exposed a deepening rift among Egyptians. Some see them as the first step to democratic rule, while others say the new parliament − whose function remains unclear − leaves control in the hands of the military.

The SCAF has faced growing outrage over the actions of the security forces against demonstrators calling for an immediate transition to civilian rule, which have resulted in dozens of deaths.

Burns was also expected to discuss a major U.S. dispute with Egypt over Cairo’s crackdown last month on 17 offices of local and international rights organizations, including U.S. election monitoring groups.

The most populous Arab country, Egypt has been the linchpin of U.S. policy in the Middle East since 1979 when it became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Egypt receives $1.5 billion in annual U.S. military aid.