Unbelievable.

(Reuters) — U.S. officials have met members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, a U.S. diplomat said, after Washington announced it would have direct contacts with Egypt’s biggest Islamist group whose role has grown since U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

Washington announced the plans in June, portraying such contacts as the continuation of an earlier policy. But analysts said it reflected a new approach to the way it dealt with a group which Mubarak banned from politics.

The Brotherhood is one of Egypt’s most popular and organized groups, with a broad grassroots network built up partly through social work even in Mubarak’s era.

The contacts may unsettle Israel and its U.S. backers. The Brotherhood renounced violence as a means to achieve political change in Egypt years ago. But groups like Hamas, which have not disavowed violence, look to the Brotherhood as a spiritual guide.

Under the previous policy, U.S. diplomats were allowed to deal with the Brotherhood’s members of parliament who had won seats as “independents” to skirt the official ban. This offered a diplomatic cover to keep lines of communication open.

“We have had direct contacts with senior officials of the Freedom and Justice party,” the senior diplomat told Reuters, referring to the Brotherhood’s party that was founded after politics opened up following the ouster of Mubarak.

Update: Israel must be thrilled with the news.

Via Al-Masry Al-Youm:

. . .The diplomat said the US contacts had been with “high-level” members of the Brotherhood’s party but did not give names. From the US side, he said the contacts were not at ambassadorial level but he did not give further details.

“We had occasionally had these contacts in the past. . . The difference is in the past we had seen parliamentarians,” he said.

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