CAIRO (AP) — The number two diplomat in the U.S. State Department met Wednesday with leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the highest-level contact between Washington and the once-banned group poised to dominate the country's first parliament chosen after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with the head of the Brotherhood's political party, which has won more than 40 percent of the seats in elections that ended Wednesday. The parliament is scheduled to convene on Jan. 23.
Its main task is to appoint a 100-member panel to write a new constitution. With its election victory, the Islamist group could have significant influence over its content.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Burns' meeting with the Brotherhood leaders was a chance to reinforce U.S. expectations that Egypt's parties will support human rights, women's rights and religious tolerance.
Mohammed Morsi, head of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told Burns that there is a consensus on civic freedoms and rights for the new constitution, according to a party statement.
The meeting was part of an effort by the U.S. government to reach out to the Brotherhood after decades of shunning the movement, which was outlawed under Mubarak's regime. Thousands of its members were arrested during his 30-year old rule, though its members were allowed to run as independent candidates in parliamentary elections.
Noting his movement's success, Morsi said the first elections after Mubarak stepped down in February were an expression of Egyptians' "ability to create change."
"The large participation of the people in the three stages of the elections were a translation of the people's choice for the democratic path as the beginning of change, development and stability in Egypt," he said, according to the statement.
Morsi urged the United States to "reconsider" its policies in the region, favoring people's choices as reflected by the Arab Spring uprisings instead of dictatorial regimes, because that proved to be "not in its best interest."
Morsi said his party understands the importance of U.S.-Egyptian relations, which he said must be based on "a balance" between the two sides.
The party statement said Burns expressed interest in the movement's views about economic and political developments in Egypt and the region. It also said Burns repeated U.S. interest in promoting investment in Egypt, but also urged Egypt to cooperate with the International Monetary Fund.
Egyptian media report that a delegation from the IMF is expected in Egypt soon to discuss the possibilities of a $3 billion loan to help the country's economy. which has suffered from instability in the wake of the uprising.
Burns met with other political groups but not Egypt's more radical Islamist Salafi parties, which finished second in the election.
Additional reporting by Bradley Klapper in Washington.