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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Inside Africa: Clinton, Egypt's Military Council Chief discuss Transition of Power

Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi greets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before a meeting in Cairo.
Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi greets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before a meeting in Cairo.

Cairo (CNN) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Sunday with the head of Egypt's military leadership, a day after she urged the country's first democratically elected leader to "assert the full authority of the presidency."

Clinton's meeting with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, held out of the view of reporters, came as Egypt is in the throes of political chaos, with President Mohamed Mursi in a tug of war with the military leadership in Cairo.

Egypt's military leaders took control of the government after a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, promising to hand over control after elections.

Clinton and Tantawi, who met for just over an hour, discussed the political transition and the military ruling council's ongoing dialogue with Mursi, said a senior State Department official, who described details of the meeting on condition of anonymity.

The official said the two also discussed an economic package that was detailed a day earlier by Clinton, who said U.S. President Barack Obama wants to relieve up to $1 billion in Egyptian debt and help foster innovation, growth and job creation.

She also said the United States is ready to make available $250 million in loan guarantees to Egyptian businesses.

Clinton also stressed during the meeting with Tantawi the importance of protecting the right of all Egyptians, including women and minorities, the official said. There were no immediate details from the official about Tantawi's reaction.

During a meeting Saturday with Mursi, Clinton stressed that it was up to Egypt's people to shape the country's political future. But she also said the United States would work "to support the military's return to a purely national security role."

"The United States supports the full transition to civilian rule, with all that it entails," she said.

"This is a time marked by historic firsts, but also great uncertainty. Egyptians are in the midst of complex negotiations about almost every facet of the transition."

Clinton laid out U.S. ideas for supporting Egypt's fragile economy and discussed regional security issues with Morsy, according to the same senior State Department official who described the talks with Tantawi.

Earlier this week, Clinton urged Egypt's leaders to talk to one another and settle their differences for the good of the people, saying both the president and the military needed to work together to avoid derailing Egypt's democratic transition.

Clinton's talks with Tantawi were likely to be along the same lines. Tantawi, a 76-year-old career infantry officer, fought in Egypt's 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel.

Egypt's military is the foundation of the modern state, having overthrown the country's monarchy in 1952.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces currently wields legislative power, having ordered the dissolution of parliament after the country's highest court ruled that it had been elected under laws which were not valid.

Mursi tried to call it back into session after he was sworn in, but the court reaffirmed its decision, so the military council retain lawmaking powers until a new parliament is sworn in near the end of the year.

In the Presidential election, Mursi edged out Ahmed Shafik -- the last prime minister to serve Mubarak -- winning nearly 52% of the votes cast.

He resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party shortly after the results were announced, in an apparent effort to send a message that he will represent all Egyptians.

Clinton aides said the secretary of state wanted to visit Cairo early after Mursi's swearing-in to show that the Obama administration wants to help the new government improve Egypt's economy.


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