CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's highest security body has warned that the search for a peaceful end to a standoff over sit-ins by supporters of the ousted president is not open-ended, according to a statement it issued on Sunday.
The military ousted Morsi in a July 3 coup that followed days of mass protests in which millions of Egyptians called on the Islamist leader to step down. Morsi's supporters are camped in two Cairo squares demanding his reinstatement.
The U.S. and EU are trying to mediate a peaceful resolution to avoid a repeat of deadly clashes between Morsi's supporters and security forces. At least 250 people have been killed in clashes since Morsi's overthrow.
But the National Defense Council said the search for a peaceful resolution was not open-ended, and a negotiated end would not shield from legal proceedings what it called "law-breakers" and others who incite against the state.
The NDC is led by the interim president. It includes Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi , who led the July 3 coup, and other top ministers.
Their statement is the latest warning to protesters.
Egypt's Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, called on Morsi's supporters on Saturday to abandon their protest camps, while a senior U.S. diplomat met with officials on both sides of the country's political divide.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns extended his visit to Cairo by one day so he could meet el-Sissi and the country's prime minister on Sunday, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said. A member of the pro-Morsi delegation that met Saturday with Burns said the four delegates also would meet again with the U.S. diplomat on Sunday for more talks.
At the core of talks is the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails, and its Islamist allies. The Brotherhood says it is looking for concessions before beginning talks with the new, military-backed administration. These measures could include releasing detained Brotherhood leaders, unfreezing the group's assets, lifting a ban on Islamist TV stations loyal to Morsi and reigning in the use of force against its protesters.
But the National Defense Council's statement suggested that the window for a negotiated end to the sit-ins on opposite sides of the Egyptian capital was narrowing and not open-ended.
It said a chance should be given to all "negotiations and mediations" that could end the protests without bloodshed. But it said the timeframe should be "defined and limited and ... not infringe on the law and the rights of citizens."
The statement also called on the protesters to abandon the sit-ins and join the political road map announced the day of the ouster of Morsi, who has been held in an undisclosed location and faces legal accusations of comprising with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape prison in 2011.
With the Islamist-backed constitution adopted last year suspended and the legislature dominated by Morsi's supporters dissolved, the road map provides for a new or an amended constitution to be put to a national referendum later this year and presidential and parliamentary elections early in 2014.