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New leader doesn't score too high either

US officials see the head of Egypt's military council as an ally committed to avoiding another war with Israel but have in the past criticized him privately as being resistant to political and economic reform.

world Updated: Feb 12, 2011 02:04 IST

US officials see the head of Egypt's military council as an ally committed to avoiding another war with Israel but have in the past criticized him privately as being resistant to political and economic reform.

Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Higher Military Council that took control of Egypt on Friday after President Hosni Mubarak was swept from power, has spoken with US defence secretary Robert Gates by phone five times since the crisis began.

Pentagon has been tight-lipped about talks between Tantawi and Gates but the US defence chief has publicly praised Egypt's military for being a stabilising force during the unrest. On Tuesday, Gates said Egypt's military had "made a contribution to the evolution of democracy."

But in private, US officials have characterised Tantawi as someone "reluctant to change" and uncomfortable with the US focus on fighting terrorism, according to a 2008 State Department cable released by the WikiLeaks website.

Tantawi, 75, has served in three conflicts with Israel, starting with the 1956 Suez Crisis and in both the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars. The State Department cable said he is "committed to preventing another one ever."

Still, diplomats warned ahead of a 2008 visit by Tantawi to Washington that US should be prepared to meet a "an aged and change-resistant Tantawi."