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US official visits top Egypt Islamist in jail

Part of effort to mediate standoff with government

A Muslim Brotherhood member spray-painted “Interior thugs’’ above the door to the attor-ney general’s office Monday in Cairo, near posters of former president Mohammed Morsi.

AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/reuters

A Muslim Brotherhood member spray-painted “Interior thugs’’ above the door to the attor-ney general’s office Monday in Cairo, near posters of former president Mohammed Morsi.

CAIRO — Deputy Secretary of State William Burns held talks with a jailed senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday as part of mediation efforts to end the standoff between Egypt’s military-backed government and protesters supporting ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Egyptian officials said.

The talks between Burns and Khairat el-Shater, the powerful deputy head of the Brotherhood, took place in the prison where the Islamist figure is being held, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the news media.

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Burns was accompanied by the foreign ministers of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well as an EU envoy. US Embassy spokeswoman Patricia Kabra declined to comment, but a spokesman for interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour confirmed the meeting.

He said the four were to meet with another detained Brotherhood leader, Saad el-Katatni.

Shater was among a host of prominent Islamists arrested by authorities after the army ousted Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood member, on July 3. He has been charged with complicity in the killing of anti-Morsi protesters during the four days of protests that led up to the military coup.

The government officials did not say why Burns and the other diplomats visited Shater, who was widely believed along with the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Mohammed Badie to be the source of real power during Morsi’s one year in office.

But Burns and the three other diplomats are in Egypt as part of international efforts to end a standoff between Morsi’s supporters and the military-backed interim government. Also Monday, senior US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham arrived in Cairo to press for a quick return to civilian rule.

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More than a month after Morsi’s ouster, thousands of the Islamist leader’s supporters remain camped out in two key squares in Cairo demanding his reinstatement. Egypt’s interim leadership has issued a string of warnings for them to disperse or security forces will move in, setting the stage for a potential violent showdown.

Already, some 250 people have been killed in violence since Morsi’s ouster, including at least 130 in two major clashes between security forces and supporters of the deposed president on July 8, and again on July 26 and early the next day.

In Brussels, an EU official said the main challenge currently is to instill trust between the two sides so they can eventually sit down and talk.

‘‘We don’t want to raise expectations at this moment. We are still working at the level of building confidence between the various sides,’’ the official said on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.

The official said such confidence-building measures could include releasing people, dropping charges against Brotherhood figures, and breaking up the sit-ins.

Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, has been held at an undisclosed location since his removal from office. Last week, he was visited by the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and a group of African statesmen.

Burns had extended his visit to Cairo by two days so he could have further talks with Egyptian leaders. He met Defense Minister General Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, who led the July 3 coup, and the prime minister on Sunday. Kabra, the US Embassy spokeswoman, would not say whether Burns intended to further extend his stay.

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