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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 15:56 GMT
Rice concludes talks with Mubarak
Condoleezza Rice
Ms Rice is pushing the US firm line regarding the militant group Hamas
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has concluded her meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during her five-day visit to the Middle East.

Ms Rice thanked Mr Mubarak for his help in pressing Iran to resume co-operation with the UN over its nuclear programme.

But differences emerged over how to respond to a Palestinian government headed by the militant group Hamas.

The secretary of state also met Egyptian democracy activists before travelling on to Saudi Arabia.

The US has been pushing Mr Mubarak to introduce economic and political reforms, but Ms Rice made it clear that further liberalisation was required.

"One good thing about having the president stand for election and ask for the consent of the governed is that there is a program," Ms Rice told a group of the dissidents, editors and academics.

But the activists warned her that the US was not helping them by refusing to deal with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which won a record number of seats in parliament in elections last year.

"Eliminating the Muslim Brothers is totally non-democratic. The issue is how we can compete with them," Tarik al-Hajji said.

Mr Hajji urged the US to "engineer reforms... to pull the carpet from under the Muslim Brothers".

Tough questions

Ms Rice's meeting with civil society activists came a day after a tough press conference in Cairo.

She was asked to defend the situation in Iraq, which was described by one journalist as a US-imposed "democracy of torture" and human rights abuses.

[Hamas] cannot have one foot in the camp of terror and another foot in the camp of politics
Condoleezza Rice

Others wanted to know why America was focusing on Iran's nuclear ambitions instead of on the nuclear weapons held by Israel, and whether the Bush administration would bomb Iran.

"Our aspiration is not that people will have an American-style democracy. American-style democracy is for Americans," Ms Rice said.

"There will be a democracy that is for Egypt or for Iraq or for any other people on this Earth because democracy is the only form of government in which human beings truly get to express themselves."

Premature

Ms Rice was also asked about the US government's response to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's formal invitation to Hamas to form a new government following their victory in January's legislative elections.

Washington has threatened to freeze aid to the Palestinians if Hamas officials head the next government.

"You cannot have one foot in the camp of terror and another foot in the camp of politics," Ms Rice said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said it was premature to cut off international aid even if Hamas is at the helm - dashing the Bush administration's hopes for a unified front against the militant Islamic group.

"We should give Hamas time. I'm sure that Hamas will develop, will evolve. We should not prejudge the issue," Mr Gheit said.

Egypt, which receives $2bn (1.1bn) annually in military and economic aid from the US, acts as a mediator in the region.


SEE ALSO:
Russia urges nuclear deal on Iran
20 Feb 06 |  Middle East
Rice signals shift in Iran policy
16 Feb 06 |  Americas
US slams Egypt local poll delay
14 Feb 06 |  Middle East
Doubts over Palestinian aid schemes
21 Feb 06 |  Middle East
Carter: Don't punish Palestinians
20 Feb 06 |  Middle East
US issues aid warning to Iraqis
20 Feb 06 |  Middle East


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