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US attitude towards Muslim Brotherhood changing: report

Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic movement that the US has shunned for its ties with terror.

world Updated: Apr 16, 2007 17:49 IST

The Bush administration's policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood, a worldwide Islamic movement that the United States has shunned for its alleged ties with terrorism, might now be changing, a media report said.

Newsweek based this observation on a brief encounter at a Cairo cocktail party at the residence of US ambassador to Egypt Francis Riociardone of House majority leader Steny Hoyer and other visiting members of the Congress with Mohammed Saad el-Katani, a Brotherhood leader.

He serves as chief of an "independent" bloc in Egyptian Parliament allied with the movement which is banned by the Egyptian government.

Newsweek said Hoyer told the embassy he wanted to hear "alternative" voices in Egypt. He had met Katatni with other Parliament members earlier in the day.

But, Hoyer said, "We didn't ask that the Brotherhood be included in the reception. Frankly, we were surprised to see him."

During their five-minute talk, Hoyer and Katatni debated the role of Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood. "He was definitely rationalizing Hamas' position," Hoyer was quoted as saying.

US officials in Egypt, the report said, at first downplayed the meeting's significance, claiming that embassy officials have met in the past with Brotherhood members who are in the Parliament.

But a senior US official (who declined to be identified because of diplomatic sensitivities) told the magazine that the invite to Katatni was "cleared" by the State Department and represented the highest-level contacts with the Brotherhood since 9/11.

"This doesn't mean we are embracing the group," the official says. "It means we recognise that we have to listen to a wide range of voices."

The meeting was also a "subtle, smart way to express concern" over a recent crackdown in which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government has arrested other Brotherhood leaders and charged them in secret military courts, the report said.

The apparent softening in the US approach, Newsweek said, is controversial.

Some counter-terror officials have been pressing for years for a full-scale US intelligence investigation of the Brotherhood, arguing that, despite its public disavowal of violence, the group aims to create a worldwide Islamic state.

"They are a wolf in sheep's clothing," Chris Hamilton, a former FBI counter-terror official is quoted as saying. But another top Brotherhood leader, Yousef Nada, a Swiss banker whom US officials have accused of being a terrorist financier, said (in a PBS documentary about the Brotherhood, airing this week) that Washington will have to deal with the group "if they want ... Peace in this area."

Nada vehemently denies any connection with terrorism.