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Egyptian military team headed to Washington


A high-level Egyptian military delegation heads to Washington on Wednesday for talks amid growing friction over Cairo's restrictions on pro-democracy groups, US administration officials said.

Top US officials have demanded Egypt's military rulers lift a crackdown on non-government organizations (NGOs) including a travel ban on some of their staff, and a number of Americans have taken shelter at the US embassy in Cairo.

But administration officials said it was important to go ahead with the previously scheduled week-long visit despite the discord.

"This is an important military relationship that we have had and we have enjoyed for better than three decades," Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby told reporters.

"There's going to be differences of opinion. There were before the popular revolution there," he said.

But even with the disagreement about NGOs, Kirby said the Pentagon still wanted to "continue to pursue a strong relationship with the Egyptian military."

Analysts have said the crackdown was part of a wider campaign by Egypt's military rulers to silence dissent after months of criticism of its human rights record.

The delegation travels to the American capital after two days of talks in Tampa, Florida at the headquarters of US Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The delegation was due to meet senior defense officials and military officers in Washington as well as top administration officials.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Monday confirmed that "a handful" of Americans barred from leaving Egypt had taken shelter at the American mission while awaiting Egypt's permission to depart.