The United States will resume limited contacts with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed on Thursday, saying it was in Washington's interests to deal with parties committed to non-violent political activity.
While Clinton portrayed the Obama administration's decision as a continuation of an earlier policy, it reflects a subtle shift in that US officials will now be able to deal directly with Brotherhood officials who are not members of parliament.
The decision, first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, is all but certain to upset Israel and its US supporters who have deep misgivings about the Brotherhood, a group founded in 1928 that seeks to promote its conservative vision of Islam in society.
"We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful, and committed to non-violence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency," Clinton told reporters at a news conference.
"Now in any of those contacts, prior or future, we will continue to emphasize the importance of and support for democratic principles and especially a commitment to non-violence, respect for minority rights, and the full inclusion of women in any democracy," she added.
In Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood said it welcomed any formal contacts with the United States but that no such contacts had yet been made.
"We welcome such relationships with everyone because those relations will lead to clarifying our vision. But it won't include or be based on any intervention in the internal affairs of the country," spokesman Mohamed Saad al-Katatni told Reuters.
"Until now no contacts have been made with the group or the party," said Katatni, who is also secretary-general of the Brotherhood's new Freedom and Justice political party.
"This relationship will clarify our general views and our opinion about different issues."