CAIRO: EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Egypt’s ousted Islamist president on Tuesday, saying he was “well,” but the country’s political crisis seemed no closer to resolution despite her efforts.
Neither the interim government nor supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi showed any indication that they had shifted their positions after talks with Ashton, who left Cairo on Tuesday.
Morsi loyalists continued to rally throughout the day, despite stern warnings from the military and National Defence Council and the deaths of 82 people at a protest on Saturday.
Ashton became the first person to officially visit Morsi since his July 3 ouster, holding two hours of talks with him at an undisclosed location early Tuesday.
“Morsi is well,” she told reporters.
“He has access to information in terms of TV, newspapers, so we were able to talk about the situation and we were able to talk about the need to move forward.
“We had a friendly, open and very frank discussion,” she added, declining to characterise Morsi’s comments or give details of where he is being held.
Morsi has not been seen in public since his ouster and is being held in custody on allegations related to his escape from prison during Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
“I said that I would not come unless I could see him and that was freely offered to me.”
But she said her talks with Morsi and a string of government officials and opposition representatives were not intended to push the two sides to the table.
“We want to help facilitate the bringing together of ideas,” she said, adding that she was hoping to find “common ground”.
“I don’t come here to say somebody should do this, somebody should do that, this is your country,” she said.
In Brussels, Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann said the EU had a key role “because everybody is willing to talk to us”.
On Sunday and Monday, Ashton met army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, interim president Adly Mansour and vice president Mohamed ElBaradei.
She also met representatives of the pro-Morsi coalition, which said that “no initiatives” to resolve the crisis had been discussed, adding that it remained committed to Morsi’s reinstatement.
ElBaradei, speaking at a news conference with Ashton after a second meeting with her Tuesday, insisted Morsi would play no role in Egypt’s political process going forward.
“Mr Morsi failed but the Brotherhood continues very much to be part of the political process and we would like them to participate in the political process,” he said.
ElBaradei stressed that ending violence was his “immediate priority”.
“I have always believed that violence is not the way, that we have to try every possible way to remove or to end polarisation,” he said.
Ashton said she would return to Egypt, without giving a date.
Morsi loyalists have rallied daily for his return to office and staged multiple small-scale marches from their key sit-in site by the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque on Tuesday.
Organisers had called for a million-man march, raising fears of new bloodshed, particularly after warnings from the military and National Defence Council.
On Monday night, the emergency services revised their toll of those killed in Saturday’s violence to 82, including a police officer.
The incident was the bloodiest since Morsi’s ouster, a period in which more than 250 people have died.
The bloodshed and the persistent deadlock have prompted growing international concern.
“We condemn the violence… We call for dialogue and for the release of president Morsi,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters on Tuesday.
The violence has also sparked domestic criticism of the interim authorities with a group of Egyptian human rights groups calling on Monday for interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim to be sacked.
Egypt’s interim presidency has said it was “saddened” by the deaths, but called the protest area where they occurred a “terror-originating spot”.
Unrest continued in the Sinai Peninsula meanwhile, with two policemen and a conscript killed in three separate shootings overnight, a security source said.